CARSON CITY -- Gov. Jim Gibbons on Sunday said he will replace three members of the state board charged with investigating physician involvement in Southern Nevada's health care crisis. He also apologized for saying media "buffoonery" was creating hysteria over the cases of hepatitis tied to the massive health alert.
In a statement issued Sunday night, Gibbons said he will ask for the resignations of Nevada Board of Medical Examiners President Dr. Javaid Anwar, Vice President Dr. Sohail Anjum and board member Dr. Daniel McBride because they have acknowledged conflicts of interest involving the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, the clinic at the center of the crisis.
The governor also asked for the resignation of the board's executive director, Tony Clark, the former adjutant general of the Nevada National Guard.
"This in no way questions the integrity of the board's members. I simply want to be certain that any member of this board can act on public health issues brought before them without conflict," said Gibbons, adding that the three board members were not his appointees.
The governor also instructed state Department of Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden to remove Lisa Jones, head of the Nevada Bureau of Licensing and Certification, which oversees licensing and inspections of the state's surgical centers.
The bureau has undertaken an investigation of the state's 50 surgical centers.
The call for the resignations came the same day the Review-Journal reported Anwar had not initially disclosed that he is a longtime friend and business associate of Dr. Dipak Desai, owner of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.
Officials announced on Feb. 27 that health care practices at the clinic might have infected six individuals with hepatitis C and put at least another 40,000 people at risk for potentially fatal blood-borne diseases.
They could have been exposed to the diseases when medical personnel reused syringes on infected patients and contaminated single-use vials of medicine, officials said. The infection spread when the vials were shared between multiple patients, health officials said.
Desai, who was a member of the medical board from 1993 to 2001, also served on Gibbons' medical transition team, which was formed after Gibbons was elected in November 2006.
The governor's actions came a day after he defended the Endoscopy Clinic of Southern Nevada publicly, telling the Reno Gazette-Journal in a brief interview that media "buffoonery" over the health care crisis was causing people not to seek necessary medical care.
"This hysteria has been created by people not getting the right information," Gibbons told the newspaper. "The fact is they haven't found more than those six people."
In the general population, about 1.8 percent of people have hepatitis C, Gibbons said, since 40,000 people received treatment at the center there would have to be 700 cases of hepatitis C to reach that average.
"There was no single-vial of medication reused. There were no reused needles," said Gibbons in defending Desai's clinic. "Gross negligence when you have far below the number of average (hepatitis C) cases listed? That's trial-lawyer speak to me. I think if you'd had gross negligence, you'd have a higher number."
Tests results, however, have not been reported yet for all of the patients at the clinic. More than 100 former patients of the clinic believe they contracted potentially fatal infections because of the center's shoddy medical practices, according to several Las Vegas trial lawyers.
Gibbons' comments to the Gazette-Journal were a reversal from remarks he delivered in a Tuesday news conference in which the governor said criminal charges should be brought against Desai and other medical practitioners if they deliberately jeopardized patients' health through shoddy practices.
The governor expressed regret for using the word "buffoonery" to describe media coverage of the crisis.
"My intention was to be sure that people were not fearful of seeking medical care because of the intense media coverage. It was a poor choice of words and I regret it," Gibbons said.
"What we have is a public health care crisis and what we need is public health care confidence," Gibbons said, "That is why I am taking decisive action to restore public trust."
The governor said his staff will meet with the remaining members of the Board of Medical Examiners to determine whether they have conflicts of interest that could prevent them from voting on important matters.
"Nevada has many excellent physicians who can serve on this board and act free from conflicts of interest," Gibbons said. "We need this to restore public confidence."
The board consists of six physicians and three members representing the public, all appointed by the governor. They hand out discipline for offenses ranging from malpractice to bad billing.
On Friday, Anwar, Anjum and McBride recused themselves from taking actions dealing with their friends or business associates tied to the health crisis. That disclosure came a week after Anwar played a key role in ensuring Desai's medical license remains in good standing. A deal, brokered by Anwar and Clark, allowed Desai to make a nonbinding promise to not practice medicine in Nevada and keep his license, leaving the door open for him to practice elsewhere.
Gibbons also said Sunday that any material previously removed from the Board of Medical Examiners' Web site that the public is entitled to view must be put back online immediately. The governor was referring to Anwar's removal of complete reports on malpractice by doctors from the board's Web site.
"When dealing with health care and saving lives, the public has a right to know what actions have been taken by the Board of Medical Examiners," Gibbons said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau chief Ed Vogel at evogel @reviewjournal.com or (775) 687-3901.