Tales of “runners” pressuring potential chiropractic patients are not new: Depositions, complaints and lawsuits on file at the Arkansas Insurance Department, the Arkansas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and Pulaski County Circuit Court show that the practice dates back at least a decade and the complaints about it almost that long.
Businesses have been incorporated purely for the purpose of culling through police reports for names of people involved in auto accidents and then trying, by almost any means, to persuade them to go to a particular chiropractor.
A top runner can reportedly clear as much as $150,000 a year, more than most chiropractors.
The documents suggest that runners have specifically targeted African-American accident victims, have misrepresented themselves as insurance agents and will even show up at the potential patient’s home to persuade him to visit a chiropractor. The chiropractor will then pay the runner, in some cases $250 per new client.
The runner recruitment techniques described in public records vary, but the case of Maxie Johnson of Pine Bluff, as described in a hearing transcript on file with the Chiropractic Board, is typical:
Less than 24 hours after Johnson was in an auto accident, Keatrick Walker called her on the phone. He said he worked for J. Michael Glover’s South Arkansas Chiropractic Clinic in Pine Bluff and asked if Johnson could come to the clinic that same day, Sept. 26, 2008.
She agreed because her back and neck hurt.
When she arrived at the office, Johnson testified during the April 2009 hearing, Walker told her not to worry and that she would get a settlement check. “And, basically, just rambling on about how much I might could get.”
She said Walker showed her a check for $17,000 that someone else had received.
But Johnson didn’t see Glover that day. A certified nurse’s assistant, Johnson decided not to return for her next scheduled appointment because she didn’t like the way the office was operated.
But Walker, who was a runner, didn’t give up on Johnson so easily. She told the Chiropractic Board that Walker eventually called her between 20 and 30 times.
“He stated to me that I was wrong for not coming back into the office,” Johnson said. “He would lose his bonus.”
He then told her he was going to call her insurance company and report her for fraud, she said.
Johnson filed a police report with the Pine Bluff Police Department to get Walker to stop calling, and she filed a complaint against Glover with the Chiropractic Board.
Walker denied Jackson’s allegations and said she was the one who brought up getting paid.
Glover said at the hearing that he didn’t exercise any control over Walker. And he said he didn’t know what happened between Walker and Jackson.
No action was taken against Walker or Glover.
Preying on Minorities
Leslie Maurine Armstrong, who provided patient referrals for chiropractor Christopher Cathey of Little Rock, sat for a sworn deposition in 2004 in which she revealed how the world of running operated.
Armstrong, who began working for Cathey in 2003, testified that she would receive a list of names of people who had been involved in auto accidents. She said the person who compiled the list took the names from police reports and received between $250 and $300 a day.
The target was African-Americans, she said.
“Black people are a prey,” Armstrong said. “You can get a lot of them basically.”
Armstrong said the chiropractor, Cathey, told her to call accident victims day or night or go by their houses if necessary to secure their business.
For each patient recruited for at least three office visits, Armstrong would receive $250, she said. Armstrong sometimes made between $3,000 and $4,000 a week.
Cathey did not return repeated calls from Arkansas Business. But he defended his use of a patient-referral firm in a March 2009 letter to the Chiropractic Board.
“Our priority is making sure the patient gets the treatment they need and nothing more. Any rumor or complaint is dealt with as quickly as possible,” Cathey wrote.
In her deposition five years earlier, Armstrong said she told Cathey that some runners were telling potential patients that they were insurance representatives.
She did say that Cathey told her and the other runners not to tell people that they were from an insurance company or offer any legal advice.
But, she said, Cathey didn’t intervene to stop the false statements. “And, see, that’s why I say he’s not involved with his employees,” she said.
According to Armstrong’s 2004 deposition, Roger Pleasant was one of the more successful runners in the Little Rock area, earning between $15,000 and $16,000 a week.
“He gets up early, like maybe 7 in the morning, and knocks on people’s doors,” she said.
Pleasant then would offer the accident victim $50 to visit the chiropractor he was working for, Armstrong said.
Pleasant was working for chiropractor Christopher Culpepper in Little Rock at the time; Culpepper recently told Arkansas Business that he stopped using runners years ago because he didn’t like how the runners operated.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau of Des Plaines, Ill., a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting insurance fraud, also learned of Pleasant’s prowess as a runner. If an accident victim was already seeing a chiropractor, according to a 2005 report the NICB filed with the Arkansas Insurance Department, Pleasant would pay him $50 to switch.
Pleasant’s business, Professional Service Group Inc. of Little Rock, was incorporated in 2001, but the Arkansas Secretary of State now lists the company as dissolved.
It is unclear whether Pleasant is still involved in referring clients. He recently left a voice mail at Arkansas Business that said, “I will be getting back with you. … I got a lot of stuff to let you know about. … And I do have a big side to let you know that’s going to help your paper. But don’t print nothing until you hear the real, real story. … Because it’s a big story behind that and big people behind that.”
But he never called back.
‘Nothing’s Ever Done’
Chiropractor Mark Varley of Sherwood is a former partner of Cathey. Varley graduated with him from the Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City, Mo. Varley lodged a complaint with the National Insurance Crime Bureau in 2005 because of complaints he heard from patients about Pleasant and another runner named Greg Warren, who referred patients to various chiropractors, including Cathey.
Patients told him that Pleasant and Warren represented themselves as being with insurance companies to persuade the patients to visit the chiropractors they were working for. At that time, Pleasant was working for Culpepper.
In an interview with the NICB in January 2005, Varley said he was doing his own telemarketing. Potential patients that he called would tell him that they had already been contacted by Warren.
The potential patients, though, were being told by Warren that they needed to go to the clinic they selected or “their case is no good, their bills won’t be paid and that they won’t get any settlements,” Varley said.
By late 2004, Varley said, he was hearing that same story “every single day.”
“My fear is that nothing will end up happening about this stuff,” he told the NICB six years ago. “I mean if it’s getting this bad now, it’s going to do nothing but get worse, and probably get worse quick.”
Varley told Arkansas Business recently that some runners were still misrepresenting themselves. “Nothing ever comes of it. Nothing’s ever proven. Nothing’s ever done,” he said.
But when asked if he uses runners, Varley said he wasn’t interested in talking further for this article.