Gov. Jim Gibbons and four lawmakers have expressed frustration with the progress of the Board of Medical Examiners' investigation into the hepatitis C outbreak, saying the board has failed to communicate with new members brought in to determine whether physicians should be disciplined.
But the board's executive director, Tony Clark, says the criticisms aren't valid and Gibbons may be trying to deflect attention from his personal life. Gibbons has made headlines in recent days because of allegations brought by his wife about a relationship with a married Reno woman.
"There are other issues getting in way of his gubernatorial duties and I think this is a diversionary tactic,'' Clark said Friday afternoon.
Gibbons and four lawmakers sent a letter Thursday to the medical board's president, Dr. Javaid Anwar, demanding "an immediate and detailed report of all actions" taken to address the role physicians played in the hepatitis C outbreak. They expect answers by the close of business Monday, said Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno.
Townsend and Gibbons were joined by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, and Sens. Joe Heck, R-Henderson, and Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas in signing the letter.
They asked why three temporary board members appointed by Gibbons to replace Anwar and Drs. Daniel McBride and Sohail Anjum have not been contacted by the board regarding the investigation. They also criticized Clark, saying he "has demonstrated an unwillingness to vigorously handle the matter.''
The letter came days after the death of Donald Baepler, who was acting president of the board during proceedings concerning the hepatitis C outbreak. Gibbons' office said Friday it hopes by June 13 to name a replacement for Baepler, the board's secretary-treasurer who fought a year-long battle with lung cancer. Gibbons' press secretary Ben Kieckhefer said the appointee likely will be from Southern Nevada.
Anwar, McBride and Anjum recused themselves from issues regarding the hepatitis C oubreak due to relationships with Dr. Dipak Desai, the majority owner of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. To date, as many as 84 people may have contracted hepatitis C as a result of unsafe injection practices at the facility at 700 Shadow Lane.
"We're extremely frustrated," Townsend said. "Part of that frustration is that we don't have the authority to move this along.''
Clark said he was surprised by the lawmakers' letter and its tone, but that the medical board will respond on behalf of Anwar.
In response to the criticism that temporary board members have not been contacted about the investigation, Clark said they wouldn't necessarily be contacted anyway, since they are adjudicators of facts.
"They are going to be hearing the case,'' he said. "They cannot have any evidence or any facts about this case delivered to them ahead of time.''
Clark said those members have been contacted to set up a meeting next week so that they can elect a new chair. That person would take over Baepler's duties as they related to the hepatitis C investigation.
The board already has filed malpractice complaints against Desai and Dr. Eladio Carrera for their alleged role in the transmission of hepatitis C to six patients at the 700 Shadow Lane facility.
Those complaints were filed because Carrera and Desai performed procedures on those individuals on July 25 and Sept. 21, dates health officials linked to transmission.
Clark said a hearing is scheduled for Desai in September, and for Carrera in October.
The board is now trying to determine which physicians performed procedures on 77 other patients who health officials say possibly acquired hepatitis C at the facility. The Southern Nevada Health District and the federal Centers for Disease Control believe transmission occurred when nurse anesthetists administered anesthesia.
Lawmakers, especially Leslie and Horsford, have continuously accused the medical board of not acting swiftly or on behalf of the public. The two, who are also members of the Legislative Committee on Health Care, recently asked Gibbons in a letter to appoint a special counsel to help with the investigation.
The governor rejected that idea, but turned around and asked them to sign a letter calling for the resignation of Clark, Leslie said.
"He (Gibbons) told us his office was concerned the medical board wasn't acting quick enough,'' she said.
Leslie said she didn't see the point in calling for Clark's resignation because he was set to retire in September and the medical board is in the process of finding his replacement. Instead, she again asked Gibbons to appoint a special investigator.
He refused, she said.
"So when he asked us if we'd add our names to this letter, we said sure,'' Leslie said in an interview.
She added, "I guess at this point it seems futile to continue a war of letters."
An investigation by health authorities that began in early January led to the largest patient notification of its kind in U.S. history. About 50,000 former patients of the Shadow Lane facility are being urged to get tested for hepatitis and HIV. So far, about 400 people have tested positive for hepatitis.
Contact reporter Annette Wells at email@example.com or 702-383-0283.