News Hits watched with interest as television and newspaper reporters recently raced out to a Salem Township farm owned by Dr. Soon K. Kim, a psychiatrist and businessman who first came to our attention several years ago when this rag ran a kick-ass two-part expose detailing his exploits.
Kim, who also owns a mansion in Bloomfield Hills, now makes his home in Southern California, where he oversees a number of business ventures. The guy's always been a dynamo. It's the loss that has sometimes been left in his wake that spawns grief and lawsuits.
So we weren't exactly surprised when we saw Kim's name linked with the illegal burning of medical records at his farm. One account described piles of records more than 8 feet high set ablaze. Authorities told WDIV reporter Mara MacDonald there's evidence this isn't the first time "dump trucks filled with records from Greater Detroit Hospital ... have been burned on this property."
Greater Detroit Hospital, which sits on the border of Hamtramck and Detroit, went bankrupt in 2000. As The Detroit News reported, "Abandoned medical records have been a continual problem at the bankrupt and vacant Greater Detroit Hospital, which Kim owned as a part of Quality Health Plan. He also was president of the group that managed the hospital, according to state records."
An Associated Press report carried a disclaimer from Kim lawyer Alan Gilchrist, who said, "Dr. Kim is committed to complying with all local and federal laws, and he feels he has here."
To put it mildly, the Michigan Department of Community Health seemed to think the law wasn't exactly being obeyed in regard to how the records were being handled. They're supposed to be destroyed by approved contractors who first shred and then burn them.
"This is the largest and most egregious mismanagement of medical records that we are aware of," DCH spokesperson T.J. Bucholz was quoted saying. "It's a shameful and blatant disregard of the public trust." Bucholz also promised that whoever was responsible would "pay for this illegal behavior."
Those responsible could face fines of up to $10,000 for each mishandled record.
What was missing from any of the reports we saw was an attempt to give the big picture regarding Dr. Kim and his ways of doing business. For that you would have to look to the stories Metro Times did on him way back in 2003. Those stories ("Prescription for profit," Jan. 8 and Jan. 15) focused on the bankruptcy of two hospitals, Greater Detroit and Aurora, a mental hospital on Detroit's west side.
Regarding Aurora, we reported this:
"According to our analysis, a web of for-profit companies affiliated with Kim collected at least $23 million from the hospital in a span of four years. That windfall came at a heavy cost, say critics, who point to government reports that show patients at Aurora suffered from inadequate care while an undermanned staff struggled to do its job."
An attorney for Kim disputed our financial analysis, saying the figure sounded "inflated." And Kim defended his business dealings, saying his for-profit companies provided services at or below market rates, and that an independent board running the nonprofit hospital approved the contracts. Former Detroit City Councilman Mel Ravitz, who served on the Aurora Board of Directors for a time, saw things differently, saying he thought Dr. Kim "milked Aurora for all he could" and that what happened there was "scandalous."
After the first of our two-part series ran, lawyers for Kim accused us of libeling the doctor and threatened to sue if the second installment was published. We published it anyway, and no libel action was ever taken.
As for Greater Detroit Hospital, the accusations that emerged from court documents reflected what allegedly happened at Aurora: A nonprofit created by Kim and run by a board of directors steered business worth millions of dollars into for-profit companies controlled by Kim, with the end result being the eventual bankruptcy and closure of that facility as well.
On Monday News Hits talked with Bucholz to find out if there was anything new to report. He said that medical records found at the farm had been secured in a building there, and that investigators were still in the process of sorting things out to "make some sense of how big the problem is." We told him that News Hits occasionally gets a call from former patients at Aurora looking to track down records from there. Any chance, we asked Bucholz, if files from that hospital could end up being part of the investigation? "Maybe," was all he'd say about that.
"We should have some more news in the next couple of weeks," he told us. "It is taking some time to determine the scope of the problem."
We can understand that. Like we said, News Hits has been keeping an eye on Kim and his activities for a while now, and from our perspective, the scope of problems to which his name is linked just keeps growing.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com