CARSON CITY - If you suspect the doctor or dentist you visited practices without a license, then call 2-1-1, advised Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and others Wednesday in announcing ways the state will address unlicensed health care.
But during a telephone news conference, Masto could not give specific numbers on arrests made in Nevada in recent years of people practicing without proper licenses. The most notorious case, however, was that of 42-year-old Elena Caro, who died in April 2011 after two Colombians performed buttocks-enhancement surgery on her in the back of a tile company in Las Vegas. The two "medicos clandestinos," or unlicensed doctors received three- to eight-year prison terms.
"We believe it largely is unreported," former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa added. "For every case reported, probably four or five are not reported."
People can call 211 without giving their names and the operator will make sure the information gets to the right people to investigate the allegations.
While people from all ethnic communities can be preyed on by unlicensed doctors, state Health Officer Dr. Tracey Green said it is especially a "cultural" problem among Hispanics.
Her agency has just finished a $47,000 educational campaign advising Hispanic people of the dangers of unlicensed health care. Announcements were run in Spanish publications and a town meeting was held. A task force led by Del Papa also developed recommendations to address unlicensed health care.
"This activity (unlicensed medical care) occurred in their home countries so there is an understanding that it would be OK in the United States," Green said.
Since Mom or Grandma received help from an unlicensed person, now younger Hispanic people believe it would help them, too, Green said. Then if they have suffered from the care they receive, these people "fear" reporting the incidents because they might be illegal residents subject to deportation, she added.
About 26.5 percent of Nevada's population is Hispanic. Nevada has about 183,000 undocumented immigrants, according to a Department of Home Security study.
Green acknowledged that the overriding problem may be the lack of affordable health care for many Nevada residents. Because they cannot afford doctors, they may go to "botanicas," or stores that specialize in folk medicine, Masto said.
During legislative hearings early this year, staff members of the State Board of Medical Examiners testified that under current laws they cannot even investigate allegations of doctors practicing without a license.
Masto said she since has spoken with legislators and anticipates a bill to let the board go after unlicensed doctors will be introduced in the Legislature next year.
Recommendations for reducing unlicensed health care largely call for the attorney general, the Health Division, police, health care providers and doctors to continue to work together to detect and stop unlicensed care .
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.