NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- HRC Medical says it's the largest hormone replacement company in the country. And it claims its hormone replacement therapy can increase your sex drive, help you lose weight, even improve concentration and reduce stress.
But a NewsChannel 5 investigation has discovered there are serious questions about HRC and how it's treating -- or, some say, overdosing -- its patients with hormones.
The way HRC Medical tells it, hormone replacement therapy can cure practically whatever ails you. In one of the company's promotional videos, one woman tells the camera, "I feel better. I sleep better." Another says, "It's just a wonderful thing."
And HRC's medical director Dr. Dan Hale explains, "Almost invariably people make the decision to have the treatment because you have nothing to lose."
The treatment costs nearly $3,000 and involves implanting a series of hormone-filled pellets.
Roger Wyatt turned to HRC because he had no energy and was stressed and unfocused.
"What did they say they do could for you?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
"Make me feel like a new man," Wyatt answered.
HRC's solution, Wyatt explained, was more testosterone.
In addition, a woman who did want to be identified also went to HRC and was told the same thing. Now, she's embarrassed by what she says the hormone therapy did to her.
"My voice is deeper and now I have hair, stubble on my chin, my upper lip and the sides of my face," she said, adding that the repeated treatments of male hormones also changed her female genitalia.
Roger Wyatt also experienced what he felt were negative side effects.
"I was losing hair like there was no tomorrow," he recalled.
Wyatt said he eventually got so sick from the hormone therapy that his family doctor begged him not to go back.
"He said, 'Even by their own laboratory standards, you've been severely overdosed with testosterone,'" Wyatt said.
HRC's spokesman Bill Fletcher told NewsChannel5 Investigates, "We maintain very high standards."
He also insisted these patients' claims are overstated.
"Are you telling me that not one patient has been overdosed?" we asked Fletcher.
"We've got no records of any overdose -- no," he replied.
But a year ago, the state Board of Medical Examiners reprimanded one of HRC's doctors because a patient suffered serious side effects from what it called an "overdose of hormones."
The Board said Dr. Charles Emerson failed to see patients before they underwent the hormone treatments and failed to supervise those who were administering them.
Dr. Esther Eisenberg is a Vanderbilt ob-gyn who has treated other HRC patients with hormone levels that were way too high. NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked her to take a look at Roger Wyatt's medical records from HRC -- and she confirmed that his testosterone levels were off the charts.
So were those of the female patient, she added.
"Her testosterone level is now in the male range. It's four times higher than the normal range," Dr. Eisenberg told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
That female patient said, "I do not want this to happen to anyone else."
She stopped taking the hormones back in January and said that she is still having problems.
The HRC spokesman insisted that "the side effects from hormone replacement therapy are minor, cosmetic, and temporary."
He added that patients are warned.
"We disclosed to patients on the front end that there can be side effects," Fletcher said.
But that's not what HRC's founder tells prospective patients in a company-produced video.
"Is it safe? There are no side effects. Nothing, but good effects," Dr. Dan Hale explains to the camera. Hale regularly appears on TV and company videos promoting HRC's products.
Hale refused to speak with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, although his spokesman acknowledged that there have been problems at the company.
"There's been some bumps in the road along the way," Fletcher said.
When NewsChannel 5 Investigates went through recent complaints filed against HRC with both the state and the Better Business Bureau, we found patient after patient who said they were rarely, if ever, seen by a doctor.
The female patient said, "I never saw a doctor at HRC."
Roger Wyatt reported the same thing.
"Do you know if there was even a doctor in the building?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Wyatt.
"Many times when I'd ask to see the doctor, I was told he was not there, not in the building," Wyatt said.
Fletcher responded, "We moved aggressively to fix that."
He maintained that, after Dr. Emerson was reprimanded last year by the state for failing to see patients, HRC made immediate changes.
Wyatt said he still couldn't see a doctor even after he "demanded several times."
Then, after Dr. Emerson left the company two months ago, he was replaced by Dr. Joe Morgan. When NewsChannel 5 Investigates visited HRC's office in Nashville last Friday, we were told he was there seeing patients.
The company spokesman said that, now, Morgan is also gone.
"HRC was unaware of the problems he had in other states, and he's no longer associated with HRC," Fletcher said.
The company insisted that it has thousands of happy customers -- and hormone therapy is the future of medicine. But former patients, like those we talked with, have their doubts.
"They don't need to be doing what they're doing," Roger Wyatt said.
The Better Business Bureau now gives HRC an "F" rating because of all of the complaints they've received about the company.
Patients have also filed complaints with the State Medical Board and have been told an investigation there is underway.
HRC now has nearly three dozen offices in 20 states and the company says it plans to move into major markets soon like New York. The company claims to have some 30,000 customers, who often pay close to $3,000 a piece.
In a written statement, HRC Medical insisted:
Amor Vie Hormone Replacement Therapy at HRC is a highly regarded and safe procedure that has helped tens of thousands of people to feel better, regain youthful vigor and improve their quality of life. We have a 99 percent satisfaction rate with more than 30,000 clients.
To read the rest of the HRC statement, click here.
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