Years before a hepatitis C outbreak put Dr. Dipak Desai and his clinic's unsafe medical practices in the headlines, two doctors had complained to the state medical board about similar problems at his clinics, a Las Vegas lawyer said Tuesday.
But those complaints were never investigated, and the two doctors were eventually pressured to leave the state, Robert Eglet said.
"They were essentially told to forget about it," he said, adding that Desai sat on the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners at the time.
Desai served on the board from 1993 to 2001 after being appointed by then-Gov. Bob Miller to two four-year terms.
The allegation is one of many in a medical malpractice and negligence lawsuit filed Tuesday by Eglet on behalf of 10 patients at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. The suit's defendants include Desai, his clinics, other doctors who worked at the clinics, state health officials and the medical board.
Eglet would not name the two doctors or provide additional details about their allegations.
Eglet has filed more than two dozen class-action lawsuits on behalf of hundreds of the 40,000 clinic patients who were potentially exposed to HIV and hepatitis strains B and C because of unsafe medical practices at the facility.
Health officials have linked six hepatitis C cases to the endoscopy center at 700 Shadow Lane. A public health investigation discovered nurse anesthetists reused syringes on patients with the potentially deadly infection and contaminated single-use vials of medication used on multiple patients, which spread the infection.
Clinic staffers told health investigators they were ordered to reuse supplies to save money, according to a city of Las Vegas administrator.
As a result of the public health investigation, local, state and federal authorities have opened a wide-ranging criminal investigation into possible medical negligence and insurance fraud at the endoscopy center and its related medical offices.
"There's never been anything on this scale," Eglet said of the public health notification.
The lawsuit also accuses government officials of negligence for failing to perform regular inspections of the medical clinics.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommends ambulatory surgery centers, such as the endoscopy center, be inspected every six years if they have Medicare contracts, agency spokesman Jack Cheevers said.
Those inspections are carried out by the Nevada Bureau of Licensure and Certification.
State officials inspected the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada on Jan. 9 after the hepatitis C cases were linked to the clinic, but the last full inspection before then was in 2001, bureau chief Lisa Jones said.
Since news of the outbreak went public two weeks ago, clinic patients have filed 50 lawsuits against the center and its doctors.
The bulk of those suits have been filed by Eglet, who said he already has more than 1,700 clients and another 1,000 appointments with potential clients this week. About 30 of those clients have tested positive for HIV or hepatitis strains B and C, he said.
Brian Labus, a senior epidemiologist for the Southern Nevada Health District, estimated that of the 40,000 clinic patients, about 4 percent would have pre-existing infections of hepatitis C, half a percent hepatitis B, and less than half a percent HIV. Four out of five people with hepatitis C don't experience symptoms and won't know they're infected unless tested.
Medical board Executive Director Tony Clark said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit filed Tuesday or the allegation that the board failed to investigate earlier complaints.
"Any complaints that come to the board are fully investigated," Clark said, who has had his position since 2003.
Complaints to the board go through several layers of investigation and review before becoming a formal complaint. If a doctor is never brought up on a formal complaint, the allegation remains secret, Clark said.
Desai has not spoken publicly about the current allegations, but in a statement released Monday he said he shared "our community's sorrow and concern" for the affected.
"These unfounded allegations will be addressed in a court of law, when facts have been presented and substantiated," the statement said. "I look forward to that day, when I will be afforded the right to due process to which we are all entitled as Americans."
Review-Journal writer Annette Wells contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0281.