In March, a 39-year-old woman and her husband sat in a fertility clinic near Atlanta, and waited. The woman was there to have an embryo implanted in her uterus, the final stage of a grueling in vitro fertilization process involving hormone injections, multiple egg retrievals and more than $30,000 of the couple’s savings.
Three hours passed. Then a doctor emerged with jarring news: The embryo that the clinic had been storing — the couple’s last one — had been mislabeled. Staff couldn’t be sure it was hers. The woman broke down. All this effort, all this money, only to learn it might’ve all been for nothing, thought the woman, who asked not to be identified discussing the private ordeal.
“I went crazy just crying and crying,” she said. “It was our only opportunity.” Her account was corroborated by four employees who were present that day and requested anonymity discussing private information.
The Atlanta-area clinic and 32 others across the country are owned by Kindbody, a five-year-old startup founded by Gina Bartasi. She’s a well-known figure in the fertility world whose reputation and millennial-friendly marketing has attracted hundreds of millions of venture capital dollars to Kindbody, as well as celebrity investors including Gwyneth Paltrow, Chelsea Clinton and Gabrielle Union.
But beneath the firm’s Instagrammable aesthetic lies a bonus-driven business model, a number of understaffed clinics and instances of inconsistent safety protocols that have plagued some operations and contributed to errors like the one in Atlanta, according to three dozen current and former employees and patients interviewed by Bloomberg. The people, many of whom spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation by the company, include doctors, nurse practitioners, medical assistants, laboratory professionals as well as staff in operations, finance and sales.
Examples of embryos being mislabeled, lost or accidentally destroyed occurred in four clinics over the past three years, according to two current employees and a dozen former employees. Staff at six clinics said their labs had faulty heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, factors that could harm embryo quality, and that the company moved ahead with expansion plans anyway.
As Kindbody has rapidly grown — acquiring a competitor, winning corporate benefits contracts with companies includ