CARSON CITY -- Gov. Jim Gibbons said Monday if Las Vegas medical care providers knowingly reused syringes or other items at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada or at other medical facilities, criminal charges should be filed.
"If they knowingly endangered lives of people, that does constitute a criminal act," Gibbons said following a news conference in his capitol office to discuss the state's response to the discovery of risky medical practices at the Shadow Lane facility and at other surgery centers in the state.
Gibbons stopped short of suggesting that charges should be brought at this time against Dr. Dipak Desai, the majority owner of the Endoscopy Center under fire for unsafe medical practices, or others at the facility.
"I don't know all the facts and circumstances, whether it was an accidental act, an intentional act or a negligent act," he said. "That is yet to be determined."
If it is shown that medical personnel deliberately took steps that exposed people to hepatitis C or other infectious diseases, then "those individuals responsible should be held accountable," Gibbons said.
He would not respond, however, to a question about whether that meant they should go to prison.
Gibbons, who was joined by state lawmakers, Rudy Manthei, president of the Nevada Ambulatory Surgery Centers Association, and Mike Willden, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, also rejected the claim that a budget dispute in the 2007 Legislature over the hiring of more health inspectors had anything to do with the discovery of risky medical practices.
Gibbons cut 10 of the surveyor positions in the proposed state Bureau of Licensure and Certification budget during the 2007 legislative session. Ultimately he and lawmakers agreed to fund six of the new positions.
The ability to hire, train and retain the surveyors is the main issue, he said. The agency has 14 surveyor vacancies out of a total of 50 positions. The agency also was not subjected to the 4.5 percent per year budget cuts because it is not funded with general fund tax dollars.
Willden said the bureau has a $5.2 million reserve that can be used to fund its operations and that the agency has a green light to fill all vacancies.
"Actually, for one of the times in my life, money isn't the issue in this case," he said.
Manthei said he was deeply distressed to learn of the potential for hepatitis exposure at the Southern Nevada clinic.
The top priority of the Nevada Ambulatory Surgery Centers Association is the welfare and safety of its patients, which is assessed based on national standards, he said.
"We do not support individual providers who might choose to ignore the appropriate standards," Manthei said.
Gibbons said the main point is for Nevada residents to know the state is taking the issue seriously and is working to ensure such problems do not occur again.
All 50 ambulatory surgery centers in Nevada are being inspected. Twenty-three of the reviews have been completed.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at email@example.com or (775) 687-3900.