Six medical offices raided in probe into hepatitis C outbreak


Federal, state and local authorities raided six valley medical offices Monday, seizing mountains of patient records and other paperwork as part of a joint criminal investigation into the clinic at the center of a hepatitis C outbreak.

Las Vegas police, FBI agents, and investigators with the state attorney general's office and Department of Health and Human Services served search warrants at all six locations of the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada and its affiliated clinics.

"We wanted to ensure that records weren't destroyed or anything like that," said Deputy Chief Kathy Suey, who oversees the Las Vegas police Criminal Intelligence Section.

The criminal investigation stemmed from a Southern Nevada Health District inspection of practices at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. The public health investigation found that nurse anesthetists reused syringes on patients carrying hepatitis C and contaminated single-dose vials of medicine used on multiple patients, which spread the infection to at least six other patients.

Clinic staffers told health investigators they were ordered to reuse supplies to save money, according to a city of Las Vegas administrator.

Health officials have urged 40,000 clinic patients to undergo blood tests for HIV and hepatitis strains B and C.

Five nurse anesthetists who worked at the clinics voluntarily surrendered their licenses Wednesday, and the endoscopy center's majority owner, Dr. Dipak Desai, agreed late Friday to stop practicing medicine until the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners completes its investigation. The board's executive director, Tony Clark, said Monday said he has asked the attending physicians of the six patients who contracted hepatitis C to follow in Desai's footsteps.

He could not release the doctors' names Monday because no official action had been taken, he said.

Authorities began serving the search warrants about 6 a.m. Monday, starting with the clinics at 700 Shadow Lane and 4275 Burnham Ave., Suey said.

The Shadow Lane address houses the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, while the Burnham address is home to the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center. Both locations have an office of the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada.

While they searched those locations, authorities temporarily closed Gastroenterology Center of Nevada offices at 3150 N. Tenaya Way, 5915 S. Rainbow Blvd., 2610 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway in Henderson and 1815 E. Lake Mead Blvd. in North Las Vegas.

They searched those four locations later in the day, Suey said.

Many of the clinic offices, shut down last week by various city and county officials, eventually had been allowed to reopen on an administrative or limited basis.

Detectives didn't know how much paperwork they would collect during the searches or where it would take the investigation, she said.

"We're not sure exactly what we're going to find once we look at all the documents," Suey said.

Police would likely focus on potential medical negligence involving patient care, while state and federal authorities would look at potential insurance fraud, she said.

The FBI has assigned its "most seasoned" agents to the health care fraud investigation, which will cover "anything and everything," Special Agent Joseph Dickey said.

"It's a complex case, but that's our specialty at the FBI," he said.

As part of their search, investigators seized patient records from the various offices and made sure to file them in an orderly manner so the records can be found if patients request them, Suey said.

Police planned to announce by Friday the procedure for patients to obtain copies of their clinic records from the agency, she said.

Meanwhile, investigators will begin working closely to pore over the patient and billing records before ultimately deciding which criminal angle each agency will handle.

"It's going to take a long time," Suey said.

Review-Journal writer Paul Harasim contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0281.

 

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