Gibbons opposed adding surveyors

CARSON CITY -- Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, who says he wants an all-out effort to prevent clinic practices linked to a hepatitis C outbreak, would have more state staffers for that effort if he hadn't fought approval of additional medical surveyors last year.

As part of his anti-new tax or fee policy, Gibbons cut 10 new surveyor positions from a proposed state Bureau of Licensure and Certification budget during the 2007 legislative session.

Lawmakers challenged the first-term Republican governor, who threatened to veto any tax or fee increases, and in the end approved six new positions. That brought the division's total of surveyors, whose pay is covered by fees paid by clinics surveyed, to 49.

Even with the mid-2007 approvals, however, the bureau is running short-staffed. Thirteen surveyor positions remain vacant, although several could be filled by April. The explanation for the vacancies is the difficulty in finding qualified applicants, rather than a state hiring freeze ordered by Gibbons in response to a looming revenue shortfall.

"The governor's position on not allowing these new positions was wrong during the 2007 session," said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who chairs a panel looking into the hepatitis C issue. "It's almost criminal that all these inspectors weren't added simply because he didn't want to raise a fee.

"The public's health has been jeopardized because we don't have sufficient inspectors in the field," Leslie said Friday. "It's a horrifying situation."

To get the statewide inspections done quickly, Nevada is getting help from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first CDC staffers are due to arrive Tuesday, and more are expected later in the week.

Gibbons spokesman Daniel Burns said of the criticism from Leslie, "As far as finger-pointing and who fought who during the 2007 legislative session, we're not even going there now. We have a problem in March 2008, and we're dealing with that now.

"We can finger-point all we want after we take care of the health and safety of the people of the state of Nevada."

Burns also said that "everything will be on the table" in planning to prevent any future problems with clinic practices. But, he added, "There are other ways to do that than raising taxes and fees."

The Bureau of Licensure and Certification, in charge of inspections at outpatient clinics, has begun reviewing ambulatory surgical centers in the state.