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Doctor guilty in death at home used as a medical clinic

Nearly three years after a 30-year-old man died on the operating table at an Inglewood home turned into a neighborhood clinic, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury Friday convicted the surgeon of involuntary manslaughter.

Dr. Roberto Bonilla, 64, was found guilty in a Torrance courthouse in the death of Osvaldo Hernandez, a restaurant dishwasher and illegal immigrant from Mexico who had paid the surgeon several thousand dollars in cash to relieve a sharp pain in his belly.

On the day of the gallbladder surgery -- June 4, 2008 -- Bonilla used lidocaine, a local anesthetic, to perform the open surgery. Several experts have said such procedures rarely take place under anything but general anesthesia, and in a hospital setting or accredited surgical center.

But Bonilla said he had performed that surgery, in such a lower-cost manner, safely about 200 times before without a problem. He was helped by three medical assistants, but no anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist.

Hernandez went into cardiac arrest almost immediately after the first cut. Over the next several hours, Bonilla performed CPR on the patient, but he never called 911, though Centinela Hospital Medical Center was just around the corner. The surgeon eventually called a mortuary, instead of the coroner’s office, to pick up Hernandez’s body.

Investigators said the doctor injected a fatal overdose of lidocaine and that the setting, along with the overdose and other decisions the doctor made before and after the injection, played a major role in the death.

Prosecutors described Bonilla's actions as that of someone trying to cover up what he had done.

Bonilla’s attorney, Mike Khouri, argued that the doctor did all that could be done to save Hernandez. In court, he argued that Hernandez suffered from an allergic reaction to the lidocaine, or that Bonilla accidentally "hit" a vein while injecting the anesthetic into the patient.

The verdict came after more than four days of jury deliberation. Bonilla, who remains free on bail, is expected to be sentenced March 25.

"At least three of the jurors were in tears at the time the verdict was announced," Khouri said. "I’m disappointed, but we think that Dr. Bonilla is a perfect candidate for probation. The jury deliberated for a very long time, so obviously their decision was a difficult one to make."


Doctor charged in patient's death during surgery at a home clinic

-- Hector Becerra

Photo: Dr. Roberto Bonilla. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (15)


Why don't these people go to the hospital after all it's free. He was not an old man and he probably left a family either here or in his own country. His name implies that he was a Mexican. I feel for the families but where did this supposedly poor illegal immigrant get the kind of money to pay a doctor to remove his gall bladder. It's to bad that he didn't talk to others before he chose to let him cut him open.

I think if you review the LAT pieces on this case, you'll feel that you may understand why the jurors were in tears. Dr. Bonilla was providing a medical service that did a great deal of good, and like a lot of our economy driven underground by our immigration laws, it might just as well have been in one of the countries from which its patients came. People die in licensed hospitals, too. Yet what is the DA supposed to do? Not prosecuting Dr. Bonilla would have been, in my opinion, an act of mercy and justice, but what about the precedent it would have set? This case and its doubly tragic ending is only a reflection of just how bad our situation with illegal immigration really is.

Are you kidding me!? "Where did this supposedly poor illegal immigrant get the kind of money to pay a doctor to remove his gallbladder." Most illegal immigrants come to the US to work hard and not for handouts. He likely made significant sacrifices to pay that Doctor. These types of clinics exist all over Inglewood and this Docs claim that he's helping the underserved is a bunch of crap. Those clinics make very good money by mostly charging cash. Most take advantage of the underserved.

So Dr. Bonilla's lawyer, Khouri, thinks Bonilla is a perfect candidate for probation? Actually, Bonilla is a perfect candidate for jail, and ought to lose his license to practice medicine. Period. As it is described in this article, this doc ignored the standards of the community for medical practice (at least in America), and it is simply unbelievable he did not call "911" at first sign this poor illegal immigrant's life was in danger. This doctor is dangerous, and lacks ethics. "Above all, do no harm." I hope the California Medical Association takes a strong look at this case and acts to protect the general public (including illegal immigrants who live in the shadows of our society and are vulnerable to being preyed upon by dubious types) from this man. Lastly, Bonilla owes a tremendous debt to this man's family, as does his malpractice insurance company, if indeed he even carried malpractice.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hernandez.

Healthcare in America.

Gotta love it.

Sadly, this is probably going to scare a lot of small clinics out of business and cut down even further on the options that people have for finding any medical care. The cost of one emergency room visit by an uninsured individual can plunge a low-income family into devastating debt and result in them losing their home. But what are they supposed to do when everything they work for is just to keep their family finances stable; they can't afford to pay for insurance, which could equal two to three weeks of their monthly paycheck, and options are limited at that point.

Our country doesn't offer nearly enough help for either its legal citizens or illegal immigrants, which is why hospitals and insurance companies can charge outlandish amounts of money. Sure, you could be risking your life at some anonymous clinic, but it might be the only help you'll ever get. And having seen news reports where people died in waiting rooms at hospitals, or grew sicker than necessary as the hours ticked by, what's to say that such "legitimate" help is even help at all?

I had a medical emergency and had to go to the hospital a few months ago, where the cost of the ambulance ride alone was over $2,000... I never saw the E.R. bill... and due to personal struggles, my income last year was only $5,000! If not for the fact that I was working a temp job at the time and my illness fell under Workers' Comp, I'd have been stuck with an impossible-to-pay bill, forced into bankruptcy, had my credit ruined and watched my financial future be utterly destroyed. (Sadly, getting further Workers' Comp payments are not an option in my case, but I AM quite happy to have them cover what must be at least a $20,000 bill!)

I am sure that he will not get probation. Life is what he is going to end up with, more than likely; because any moderate amount of time will, probably, end up being a death sentence, at his age.

A sad story. If only we had tort reform, these things would never happen.

Illegal immigrants, acting off the grid or who are poor, tend to avoid some situations in which they will be held accountable for paying bills. We've lost hundreds and hundreds of hospitals because of overwhelming demand from a demographic that's essentially poorer, without insurance or means to pay.

And that demand goes far beyond essential emergency care. Services that include interpreters and documents written in Spanish (or another language) is costly as well.
Going to cut rate surgeons, folk doctors and other services that are without the proper credentials or facilities endangers this population.
Illegal immigrants seem to be willing to cut all kinds of corners or take certain risks to get their way.
Why isn't all that used to demand prime medical care in their native countries? This country has limits in resources and services, and in this economy, less and less for those who are properly documented and accountable. How are we, as a nation, going to be able to know how many people we can take care of or handle, when illegal immigrants keep crashing the gate?
It's not a slam on immigrants. It's wondering when SOMEBODY, is going to do the RIGHT thing!

This was a home that was renovated into a clinic long before Dr. Bonilla took over the property. This biased article makes it sound like he was operating in his spare bedroom. And as far as calling paramedics, who would you rather have trying to revive you, an EMT or a surgeon with 40 years behind him working in the ERs of South Central LA. He knows what he's doing. This was not an illegal clinic operating under the radar. Dr Bonilla is a respected surgeon that operates a clinic in Inglewood and ALSO provides services for uninsured pe0ple that need them, which are not a lucrative portion of his business. This article is not accurate. Dr Bonilla had all the proper equipment to attempt to save this patient, defibs, etc. He had the background and expertese to know what to do. Sometimes patients are allergic to medications, sometimes they lie about the drugs they may have already consumed, sometimes they die. This was an outpatient procedure and the Medical Board investigated and found there was no negligence, that the same thing would have happened if he had been in the hospital for the procedure. Thats why this case is unusual, because the Medical Board disagrees with the prosecutor. Way to research LA Times, shame on you!!!!

Whether Mr. Hernandez was an illigal immigrant is irrelevant in this case. The doctor was negligent by performing a gallbladder surgery with lidocaine injections and overdosing him. Gallbladder surgery requires a general anesthetic to knock you out completely and requires 1 to 2 days in the hospital to recouperate. Lidocaine injections are primarily used to temporarily numb your finger if you need stitches in your finger, NOT major surgery. Obviously this doctor did not have or to save money not willing to pay for an anesthesiologist to protect Mr. Hernandez under a general anesthetic. The second Mr. Hernandez showed abnormal signs 911 should have been called to be given meds to counteract the overdose and save his life. Out patient clinics are not approved for major surgery. The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 4 years and now the medical board HAS to revoke his license !!!!! This surgeon definitely knew he was crossing the line and gambling with Mr. Hernandez' life.

Home office, home surgical center. Everything is going Do-It-Yourself, DIY. Take my business: Forget the expense of an attorney, represent yourself using a paralegal and save money.

He was totally taking advantage of that man, and the coverup proves he knew that he wasn't in the right. He should definitely go to prison, he didn't know what he was doing.


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