Erasing health care's 'black mark'

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Thursday that he has enlisted doctors, nurses and hospital executives from across the valley to repair the damage done to the public image of local health care by the hepatitis outbreak.

He pointed to a recent poll that found 78 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement, "The health care system puts making money above patients' needs."

"It was very accurate, I believe," Goodman said, adding that the meeting's attendees agreed.

"The doctors who were there, the hospital executives who were there, really feel the brunt of an alleged few bad apples," he said. "They want to get the message out about what they're going to do about it."

That message hasn't been fleshed out yet.

"That's what we're discussing," Goodman said. "Basically -- and this is my main burden -- how can we assure that the community will not undergo a situation like this in the future?"

An investigation found that the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada at 700 Shadow Lane used unsafe injection procedures that could expose patients to blood-borne diseases. About 50,000 clinic patients have been urged to undergo testing for hepatitis B and C, and HIV.

About 400 people have tested positive for hepatitis C, with 84 of those cases being linked to the clinic.

The case has been a disaster for health care locally, Goodman said.

"It's embarrassing as the mayor of Las Vegas to have to respond to people who saw the story ... around the world," he said. "The worst thing that's happened is that folks who need to have medical procedures done are now afraid to have medical procedures done here."

Sylvia Young, chief executive officer of the Sunrise Health System, said, "If it isn't an emergency (surgery), some patients are saying they'd like to wait."

Young said patients are asking nurses to show them syringes and needles in their original packaging and questioning where supplies come from and if they are sterile.

One goal of the coalition is to educate health care consumers about the quality services available to them in Southern Nevada, especially at hospitals, Young said.

The group includes hospital CEOs from the Sunrise and Valley health systems, St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, University Medical Center and North Vista. The group is being called the Mayor's Quality Healthcare Coalition of Nevada. It is scheduled to meet again in two weeks.

The outbreak and decline in public esteem of local health care is hurting Southern Nevada's ability to attract medical professionals, Goodman said.

"They don't feel like this is a place they would want to practice," Goodman said. "They felt there was a black mark placed on the profession, and they didn't want to be a part of it."

The poll was conducted by the School of Public Health and the Cannon Survey Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435. Review-Journal writer Annette Wells contributed to this report.