Supporters and critics of a Nevada City holistic physician are reacting to news that he is being charged with various medical business-related criminal offenses in a complaint filed Friday by the Nevada County District Attorney’s office.
Dr. Harvey Bigelsen, whose clinic was shut down March 20 after a raid by investigators from the California Medical Board, is facing nine misdemeanor counts of practicing medicine without a license, distributing homeopathic remedies and related offenses, according to the complaint filed in Nevada County Superior Court.
“I find this persecution reprehensible!” said Marilyn Nyborg of Grass Valley in a letter to the editor of The Union. “He does not present himself as a doctor but as a homeopathic practitioner.
“Does this mean all such practitioners should be afraid?” Nyborg added. “Does this mean all the alternative health people in Nevada County should run for cover?”
Bigelsen’s attorney, Elliott Faust of Auburn, declined comment Monday, saying he had not had a chance to review the complaint, see discovery or query the district attorney’s office about the case.
Bigelsen, 73, and his wife, Judy Bigelsen, interviewed Friday by The Union, said they have been devastated by the raid, the shutdown of their business, the subsequent foreclosure of their Nevada City home and now the county’s prosecution.
“They shut me down without a hearing,” Bigelsen said, referring to his clinic, the Biological Health Institute, formerly on Providence Mine Road. “Aren’t we innocent until proven guilty?”
Judy Bigelsen, who said she had been working on a loan modification on their Nevada City home before the raid, said they lost the house to foreclosure after the lender heard the business was shut down. They have since moved to a new location in South County.
“The only thing that’s kept us from jumping off the plank is when we go on Facebook,” she said. “You have no idea of the support we’ve had online, in phone calls with people crying and people knocking on our door.”
Supporters are organizing a fundraiser and a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for the Bigelsens from 3 to 7 p.m., June 22, at Summer Thymes restaurant in Grass Valley. The National Health Federation in Monrovia, Calif., has also posted a video entitled “The National Betrayal of Harvey Bigelsen.”
Bigelsen, whose latest of multiple books is titled “Doctors Are More Harmful Than Germs,” is a board member of the federation.
Critics say Bigelsen, who has in the past been mentioned on the national website Quackwatch, has been evasive and unresponsive in recent months.
“He doesn’t keep his website up to date, doesn’t keep his blog up to date, doesn’t respond to phone calls,” said Fred Lorenzino of San Francisco, who said he is an acquaintance of Bigelsen’s who had referred people to the doctor in the past for alternative therapy for cancer and other conditions. Bigelsen said he had no idea who Lorenzino was, had no record of him in his files and didn’t know anything about him.
Some local medical experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say they’ve had mixed reports, with some former clients claiming they had received help from Bigelsen’s clinic and others saying there were some internal problems in the clinic management. Bigelsen said he had no word on any internal problems at the clinic.
According to Bigelsen, who is no stranger to controversy, he went out of his way in his Nevada City clinic to stay within the guidelines of acting as a consultant, working with an osteopath and a naturopath to analyze blood samples and avoid anything that suggested he was practicing medicine.
“I did everything possible to prevent something like this from happening,” Bigelsen said of the raid and the subsequent charges.
A native New Yorker, Bigelsen went to Kenyon College and graduated from SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine. During his subsequent residency he was sent to Vietnam and assigned as a trauma surgeon. During 1968-69, he performed more than 200 surgeries in Vietnam, he said.
After returning from the military and setting up a practice as an ophthalmologist in New Jersey, Bigelsen had an awakening of sorts. A patient he had been counseling to have surgery for glaucoma refused to go under the knife and left to seek help from an alternative practitioner and healer. When she returned a short time later, her glaucoma was gone.
The healer was the late Vincent Ragone, who Bigelsen said had been a psychic to four U.S. presidents. Inspired by Ragone, Bigelsen left his medical practice to study the work of the late medical psychic Edgar Cayce at a clinic in Arizona. He became a founding board member of the American Holistic Medical Association in 1978.
Bigelsen wrote the first U.S. law for homeopathy practitioners in Arizona and was twice appointed by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt to serve on the board overseeing the law. He received the “Homeopathic Man of the Year Award in 1986” in Arizona.
Homeopathy uses dilutions of various natural substances to adjust the immune system and body chemistry to achieve balance.
Bigelsen’s breakthrough in homeopathy came when Dr. Fredrick Plog, a German naturopathic doctor who used a system called Enderlein therapy, cured his son, Adam, then 17, of mononucleosis in four days instead of the normal six months.
In the Enderlein therapy, the homeopathic remedy may be mixed with the person’s own blood and then injected back into the person’s body.
“I was extremely excited about what I had seen and immediately asked Dr. Plog to teach me his methods,” Bigelsen writes in his book, “Your Cure for Cancer.” “He had virtually done the impossible, and I was not going to let him leave without showing me everything he knew.”
From there, Bigelsen developed an eclectic body of healing techniques that included the homeopathic remedies, as well as what he calls “dark field” microscopic analysis of “live” blood, or blood that has not been stained as is normally done to show red and white blood cells.
Bigelsen said Friday that he had to surrender his Arizona and Nevada medical licenses after a problem with Medicare officials, who had audited a chelation therapist working under him at his Arizona clinic and found coding irregularities.
“I was subject to a random audit, and they randomly picked out the only 28 chelation cases out of my 5,000-case file,” he said. “They also randomly audited 22 other chelation therapists that year out of 70 who were practicing.”
Although Bigelsen did not do any chelation, and although Medicare did not have appropriate coding for chelation therapy, a grand jury in 1992 indicted him on 117 counts of Medicare fraud. The penalty, $3,500, was ultimately settled for $145, Bigelsen said.
“It was one of the lowest-cost indictments in history,” Bigelsen said. “Sen. Bill Frist (a Tennessee Republican who was also an M.D.) was indicted for a $1.7 billion misdemeanor, and I was indicted for a $3,500 felony.”
After that, Bigelsen decided he had had enough of the U.S. system and went to Baja, Mexico, where he practiced for some years before returning to California, first in the Lake Tahoe area and then to the clinic in Nevada County in 2004-05. He says he retains the “Dr.” title, as would any retired M.D.
“The community has embraced what we do,” he said Friday. “We have helped hundreds of people,” he said. “As far as we know, we haven’t had any complaints.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.