Gov. Jim Gibbons has refused to appoint a special counsel to investigate doctors associated with the hepatitis C outbreak, saying the responsibility rests with the Board of Medical Examiners.
In turn, two lawmakers who sought the independent investigation are now seeking assurances from the medical board's president that its probe be thorough.
"We're just trying to keep the pressure on,'' said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.
In a letter to the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners' president, Leslie and Senate Minority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also asked Dr. Javaid Anwar to assure them that the board would "not impede" law enforcement agencies and other governmental entities that are also looking into the public health crisis.
The two-page letter, dated Monday, highlights the responsibilities of executive director Tony Clark under Nevada law and the overall duties of the board.
"We're on track to having the largest hepatitis C outbreak in the nation, and we have a medical board that doesn't want to cooperate with law enforcement,'' said Leslie, referring to Clark's refusal earlier this month to turn over to Las Vegas police any complaints filed against Dr. Dipak Desai, majority owner of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada's Shadow Lane clinic. "This all seems like a bad dream.''
Clark has since turned over the records, according to the lawmakers' letter, but not until the last day to comply with a grand jury subpoena.
Thousands of Endoscopy Center patients were notified to get tested for hepatitis and HIV viruses after health officials found unsafe injection practices there.
Leslie said the medical board has been slow to react to the public health crisis, and she and other officials had criticized the medical board for what they saw as a response to concerns of physicians and not the public. That was a reason behind the request for a governor-appointed special counsel.
Leslie and Horsford sent Gibbons a letter April 25 urging an independent investigation into the 14 doctors who worked at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada at 700 Shadow Lane, where health officials think 84 people might have contracted hepatitis C.
In response, Gibbons said he would seek advice from his legal counsel.
Ben Kieckhefer, Gibbons' press secretary, said the governor did discuss the request with his legal counsel but felt he had already taken "very specific action'' to ensure the public's trust in the medical board.
On April 2, Gibbons appointed three members to the medical board as replacements for Drs. Anwar, Sohail Anjum and Daniel McBride, who had recused themselves from matters related to the hepatitis C outbreak because they have relationships with Desai.
Kieckhefer said Gibbons "expects the board to do its job.''
Gibbons' letter to the lawmakers states, "I see no reason to presume that a full and nonconflicted Board of Medical Examiners is unable to conduct a thorough, complete and independent investigation of any physician who may have culpability in the current health care crisis."
Regarding Leslie and Horsford's call to summarily suspend the licenses of the 14 physicians, Gibbons noted the licenses of two physicians have been suspended and the board has the authority to decide whether suspensions should be issued for the other 12.
Leslie and Horsford both said they were disappointed in the governor's decision but plan to continue to "put pressure on the board to act.''
Leslie said there might also be legislation introduced in the near future that would change the makeup of the medical board.
"We may need to start over fresh,'' she said. "There is literally no confidence in our medical board right now, and I don't know how to restore it.''
To date, all of Desai's clinics are closed. Last week, Desai and Dr. Eladio Carrera agreed to extensions of temporary restraining orders that bar them from practicing medicine.
Desai's agreement extends his medical license suspension until the medical board completes its investigation.
Carrera agreed to an extension of his suspension until a July 16 court hearing.
Contact reporter Annette Wells at email@example.com or 702-383-0283.