Use of unlicensed doctors blamed on lack of affordable health care

CARSON CITY -- If Nevada is going to prevent the Latino community from seeking help from unlicensed doctors, then it must create better access to affordable health care for all people, legislators were told Tuesday.

"Our (medical) workforce remains unable to fill the current demand," said Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association. "We really have not closed the access gap. We have to develop better places for people to go and get help."

Matheis told the Legislative Interim Committee on Health Care that the increase in incidents in which people, particularly Hispanics, seek care from unlicensed medical workers is in part because of their inability to find affordable help from licensed medical personnel.

He said Nevada does not have enough doctors in the first place and especially lacks Latino physicians who could better relate to and speak the native language of many Hispanic patients.

Matheis made his presentation during a meeting when legislators discussed unlicensed doctors and how a new media campaign is designed to make Latino people more aware of the dangers of visiting unlicensed medical personnel.

But from the start of a long meeting, it was apparent that speakers were giving scant attention to the underlying problem of why people visit unlicensed doctors.

"Where do people go for care?" asked Sen. Valerie Weiner, D-Las Vegas, interrupting one speaker.

State Health Officer Dr. Tracey Green and former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa noted the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno has compiled a statewide list, in Spanish and English, where people can find low- or no-cost medical assistance.

A check of the list shows none of these health care providers offers cosmetic surgery services.

It was the death of Elena Caro, 42, of Las Vegas in April 2011 that prompted the move to make Latino people aware of the dangers of using unlicensed medical personnel.

Caro died after undergoing buttocks surgery in the backroom of a floor tile company. Two Colombians were arrested in connection with her death as they tried to board an airplane at McCarran International Airport.

Del Papa chairs a state task force looking at the problem of unlicensed medical personnel. She said her task force will look at the availability of medical services.

But finding help might be difficult because the cash-strapped Clark County Social Services Department cannot readily offer assistance, and more people end up in hospital emergency rooms, said Timothy Burch, director of Social Services.

Burch told the committee there is an 18-day wait for some services because his agency has been forced to make substantial cuts in staffing because of a drop in property tax revenue.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.