The punishment handed down Monday by the city of Las Vegas to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada -- revoking the clinic's business license and a $500,000 fine -- isn't enough to satisfy the clinic's former patients, some of whom called for much stricter measures as punishment for the center's reported unsafe medical practices.
But it's still something.
"I want to thank you for taking away their business license," said Stephanie Entel Thornton, who told the Las Vegas City Council that she tested positive for hepatitis C after undergoing a procedure at the clinic. "These people took an oath to do no harm. They've done a great deal of harm."
Barbara Botts said she's also glad to see the license gone, but she was still angry that her husband died from hepatitis C and that other people may be sick now because of the clinic's practices. Health officials have linked no deaths to the clinic.
"These men should be held accountable," Botts said. "I don't understand why they're not being indicted."
There is a criminal investigation under way of the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada's clinics, one of which is the Endoscopy Center at 700 Shadow Lane.
Monday's proceeding was narrow, concerning only the business license of that facility. The license was suspended Feb. 29, two days after health investigators announced that unsafe practices meant that 40,000 patients should get tested for hepatitis and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The other clinics are outside of the city of Las Vegas.
"All we have jurisdiction over is their city license," said Mayor Oscar Goodman. "We've gone to the full extent of our jurisdiction."
The city was prepared to have an extensive hearing on the clinic, complete with witnesses, testimony and cross-examination by a city attorney and lawyers representing the clinic.
Those lawyers met with Goodman last month, shortly after the hearing was scheduled, and offered to surrender the business license without a hearing, an offer he said he "was not inclined or disposed to accept."
Later, he continued, the attorneys for the clinics "called me and wanted to know: What would it take to avoid a full and complete hearing on this? What did we want in addition to the license?"
Goodman said he would recommend a $500,000 fine to be paid when the license is surrendered. The fine -- broken into two $250,000 payments from both the Endoscopy Center and the Gastroenterology Center -- was made during the council hearing with checks being handed over to the city.
The money will be spent to help people affected by the clinic's action -- specifically, on free testing and for access to medical records seized by the police. City staff will make spending recommendations at the May 6 council meeting.
Councilman Steve Wolfson described the arrangement as "a bird in the hand."
"Sometimes we fine people or fine entities, and that fine is paper with an amount on it and it's still swirling in the air," he said. "We don't have that today. We have $500,000 in the pockets of the city."
Goodman said he arrived at that amount because it was "realistic under the circumstances."
"If it was more than that, they very well could've said they weren't going to pay it. I didn't want to get involved in a back-and-forth situation," he said.
"Most people expected us just to get the business license, and we went beyond that."
Michelle Baltz told the council that she hoped at least some of the money would be spent on reorganizing the medical records seized by law enforcement investigators. Police took the records to safeguard them, but patients have reported problems finding their records among the thousands in police custody.
"There's already a shortage of gastro doctors, and before a doctor will even tell if he'll take me as a patient, I have to get my records," said Baltz, who suffers from a chronic bowel condition known as Crohn's disease.
She requested her records but was told they're filed by date, not name.
"I don't know when my procedure was done," she said. "I'm walking around with Crohn's disease and I can't even see a doctor."
According to health investigators, clinic workers reused syringes when administering medication to a patient, which introduced the risk of transferring an infectious agent to the medicine vial.
The vials were supposed to be single-use, but staff reused the vials on multiple patients, which could lead to the infectious agent being spread.
Investigators have linked six acute hepatitis C cases to the Shadow Lane facility and strongly suspect that a seventh case is connected to the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center, an affiliated clinic on Burnham Avenue.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.