CARSON CITY -- An official with the state Board of Medical Examiners told lawmakers Thursday that he will recommend the board ask doctors working for the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada to surrender their licenses.
Tony Clark, executive director of the state medical board, told the Legislative Committee on Health Care that the panel is moving quickly to investigate and act if violations of the medical practice act have occurred.
The board immediately issued subpoenas, Clark said, after the Southern Nevada Health District revealed the results last week of an investigation at the clinic that found nurse anesthetists at the center reused syringes on infected patients and contaminated vials of medicine that were shared among patients. Six patients have tested positive for hepatitis C.
Subpoenas were served Monday, and witness statements will be taken beginning next week, Clark said.
Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, suggested to Clark that the medical board consider asking the physicians involved to voluntarily surrender their licenses, just as the state Board of Nursing did with five nurse anesthetists associated with the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.
Those nurses have surrendered their licenses while awaiting the outcome of the investigation.
Clark said he would take the matter up with the medical board and that he would propose it make such a request.
Doug Cooper, chief of investigations for the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners, said he can't be part of a rush to judgment.
"We need to know for sure which doctors were involved," he said. "The doctors deserve due process of law."
Asking a doctor to surrender his or her license voluntarily is not normal procedure, Cooper said.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, who attended the legislative meeting, urged Clark to move as quickly as possible with the investigation.
"I think the only thing that is really important is -- when you have a public health crisis where people's lives have been placed at risk -- it's important to take action quickly," she said. "Obviously you must comply with due process.
"But if the allegations are found to be true by the appropriate bodies, we need strong action.
"When you risk people's lives and give them a deadly disease to line your own pockets, the answer is revocation of licenses and the largest fines available under the law," Buckley said.
The public needs to know there is going to be an investigation and that it is conducted in a timely manner, she said.
Health officials have sent letters to 40,000 of the clinic's patients, urging them to get tested for hepatitis C and B and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Hepatitis is a potentially deadly blood-borne disease that attacks the liver.
Clark said the board's actions regarding the 14 physicians working at the center will depend on what the evidence shows.
"We understand the importance of moving rapidly," he said.
Cooper said the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners wasn't notified in timely fashion.
"We didn't even find out about this until the media did," he said.
He said on Monday that he subpoenaed records from the Southern Nevada Health District for the six known patients who have contracted hepatitis C. He has yet to receive them.
Privacy issues are slowing the process, according to Brian Labus, senior epidemiologist of the health district.
Cooper said he and his staff are working as quickly as they can to identify the patients.
"I have to know which doctors worked on those patients," he said.
A review of the records of the Board of Medical Examiners shows no disciplinary actions against any of the 14 physicians, other than one complaint filed in 1996 against Dipak Desai for false advertising at the clinic. The complaint was resolved with Desai paying a $2,500 fine.
According to the board's Web site, if a doctor, physician assistant or practitioner of respiratory care breaks the law under the Nevada medical practice act the board can investigate and file charges.
If the charges are proven, the board can revoke the license, put the doctor on probation or impose other sanctions.
The board can take action for medical malpractice and professional incompetence, among other causes.
Review-Journal writer Paul Harasim contributed to this report. Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (775) 687-3900.