With public fear and outrage growing, Clark County health officials on Monday shut down three clinics owned by the same medical group that exposed patients to incurable diseases at its Las Vegas clinic.
County agents hand-delivered orders suspending the licenses of the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center, the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada and the Spanish Hills Surgical Center hours after city administrators upheld the suspension of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.
In written statements, county leaders indicated that no evidence points to patients being exposed to deadly diseases at the three clinics they closed Monday. Suspending the business licenses was a precaution, they said.
"The practices at their sister facility requires us to take action to protect the public," Commissioner Rory Reid said, referring to the Las Vegas clinic. "When dealing with such serious matters, it is best to treat each situation with an abundance of caution to minimize the risk to the public."
County commissioners will review the clinics' suspended licenses at their March 18 meeting.
The endoscopy and gastroenterology clinics are at 4275 Burnham Ave., near Flamingo Road, and the surgical center is at 5915 S. Rainbow Blvd., near Russell Road.
The city of Las Vegas shut down the endoscopy clinic at 700 Shadow Lane on Friday after investigators found that staff reused syringes, contaminating vials of medication and infecting six people with hepatitis C.
The Southern Nevada Health District last week sent out 40,000 letters to that clinic's patients, urging them to get tested for hepatitis C and B and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The Burnham center improperly allowed vials to be used multiple times but did not reuse syringes, so there was no proof of contamination, state health officials said last week.
Still, county leaders insisted that the reported medical practices were alarming enough to shut down the clinics in their jurisdiction.
"These are serious accusations and call for an equally serious response," Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said. "We are dealing with deadly diseases and so, to put it simply, it is better to be safe than sorry."
Commissioner Bruce Woodbury agreed.
"The alleged practices of this group are troubling and totally unacceptable," Woodbury said. "It is our responsibility to make sure businesses are operating in a safe and lawful manner."
In a Monday afternoon meeting with city officials, attorneys and doctors representing the Shadow Lane clinic failed to persuade the city to reinstate its business license.
"It is the decision of the undersigned ... that the appeal is denied," said Mayor Oscar Goodman, who announced the results of the hearing but did not attend.
"Now it's suspended. For the time being, we have their license and the license will remain with us."
The clinic has the option of taking the license suspension to court.
"We haven't made any decisions at this point," said Abe Vigil, a lawyer representing the clinic. "We have to assess how to proceed."
He declined to discuss the hearing itself, saying only, "We definitely tried to put our best foot forward. We were grateful for the opportunity."
A city statement issued Monday noted that although the center has agreed to no longer engage in the practice of reusing syringes on vials, "city business license officials are not confident the practice will stop."
The hearing was closed to the public and the press. Goodman said interest in the meeting was so high that it would've been "impractical" to let everyone in.
"We wanted to give them immediate due process," he said. "We couldn't notice it in compliance with the open meeting law."
The hearing was conducted by city manager Doug Selby, finance director Mark Vincent and Jim DiFiore, who oversees the business services division.
Doctors Dipak Desai and Clifford Carrol attended, along with three attorneys representing them. The other doctors listed on the license are Eladio Carrera and Vishvinder Sharma.
Both Desai and Carrol have hospital privileges at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center as well Valley Hospital Medical Center.
Officials from both medical facilities said the two physicians are still on staff and continue to see patients.
"We cannot speak to the practice inside other facilities,'' said Ashlee Seymour, a spokeswoman for Sunrise. "We can however speak to the practices at Sunrise. We do not reuse syringes."
No one from the Shadow Lane clinic would comment immediately after the meeting at City Hall, which started at 1:30 p.m. and wrapped up about 45 minutes later.
The fact that the meeting was closed disappointed Mary Jane Perry and her daughter, Dawn, who went downtown to attend.
Mary Jane Perry said she went to the clinic for a colonoscopy. The procedure went well -- in fact, she liked the staff there so much she baked three loaves of banana bread for them.
She underwent testing for hepatitis and HIV Monday morning.
Though she thought the clinic's actions were "disgusting" -- "I can't believe they got away with it this long," she said -- Perry also said that at 76 years old, she's not anxious about her health.
"I'm not worried for myself," she said. "What I worry about are these young people. Their lives haven't started.
"I just figure God will take care of it in the end. No sense getting sick over it."
She added, however, that she hopes the clinic stays out of business.
"I don't think they're nice people," she said.
The city of Las Vegas has received more than 60 calls, letters and e-mails about closing the clinic, all of them supportive of the city's action, a spokesman said.
Review-Journal writer Annette Wells contributed to this report.Contact reporter Scott Wyland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 455-4519. Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or (702) 229-6435.