Investigator says laws hinder clinic inquiry


RENO -- An investigator told the state Board of Medical Examiners on Friday that he had been unable to collect all the information needed to carry out an investigation of the hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas.

Chief of Investigations Douglas Cooper said he had been frustrated in getting the information he needs for an investigation of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada because laws prevent Las Vegas police from sharing much of their investigative information with him and his staff.

Cooper added that initially the state Board of Licensure and Certification, which inspects surgical centers, also declined to provide him with information identifying patients because of state privacy laws.

"I am quite confident we soon will have all the information we need," said Cooper, adding in an interview later that it will be some time before his findings are released to the public.

Officials have linked six cases of hepatitis C to the center, and 40,000 patients have been notified they should be tested to determine whether they had contracted infections. A seventh case was linked to an affiliated clinic.

Board Executive Director Tony Clark said he will ask the Legislature to change laws to guarantee board investigators have access to the information they need.

Also on Friday, board member Jean Stoess agreed to work on a redesign of the board's Web site to add information useful to the public. Gov. Jim Gibbons demanded earlier this month that the board again post on its Web site information about malpractice lawsuits filed against doctors. The board removed the information in 2005.

Board member Donald Baepler expressed reluctance Friday at placing malpractice lawsuits back on the Web site.

"The simple fact is most people do not understand malpractice lawsuits and settlements," Baepler said. "Many involve doctors who have done nothing wrong."

But Stoess said the "handwriting is on the wall" and the board needs a more user-friendly and attractive Web site.

The three board members that Gibbons on March 16 demanded resign because of their personal and professional ties to Dr. Dipak Desai, the majority owner of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada -- President Javaid Anwar, Sohail Anjum and Daniel McBride-- sat in their normal seats and participated in the hearing.

Gibbons on Friday ended his efforts to oust the three physicians from the board, saying he plans to appoint three temporary board members able to step in as the panel deals with matters involving the clinic, according to Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer.

Deputy Attorney General Christine Guerci-Nyhus said the three could vote on matters before the board "despite the cry in the press that they resign." Guerci-Nyhus failed to mention that Gibbons had called for their resignation.

None of the items on Friday's agenda involved Desai. Votes came on motions to license doctors moving to Nevada from other states.

Southern Nevadans can express their views on the hepatitis C outbreak at 10 a.m. today, when the board continues its quarterly meeting. Eight of the nine board members will be in Reno for the meeting, which will be broadcast to the conference room of the Nevada State Board of Dental Examiners in Las Vegas, 6010 S. Rainbow Blvd., Building A, Suite 1.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or (775) 687-3901. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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