Three seek share of clinic's fine


A health center, the district attorney's office and Las Vegas police are seeking all or part of the $500,000 fine collected from the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada by the city of Las Vegas.

Now City Council members must choose among providing funding for testing and monitoring the endoscopy center's former patients, paying to organize patient records that are in police custody and helping foot the bill for the potential prosecution of the clinic's owners.

The clinic, at 700 Shadow Lane, has been under fire since February when it was disclosed that unsafe injection procedures may have infected patients with hepatitis C, a potentially fatal liver disease.

The facility and six affiliated clinics across the valley were closed shortly after the announcement.

The $500,000 fine was paid when the City Council revoked the Shadow Lane office's business license April 7.

City leaders promised to use the money for something directly related to the endoscopy center fallout.

The city received three requests:

Nevada Health Centers, a nonprofit, federally funded program that provides medical services for low-income people, asked for the entire $500,000 to pay for patient testing, a case manager, tracking of patients through treatment and immunizations of those who test positive for hepatitis C against hepatitis A and B.

The proposal was prepared jointly by Nevada Health Centers, University Medical Center and the Southern Nevada Health District, according to a letter submitted to the city, which says the aim is to "create a sustained hepatitis management process in the wake of the endoscopy center crisis."

"There will need to be a many months to years follow-up of some patients, either due to incubation periods or to delayed manifestation of disease consequences, or ... delays in patients' pursuit of screening," the letter states.

"There also exists the possibility that other facilities will present similar challenges ... in the near or more distant future."

Clark County District Attorney David Roger didn't ask for a set amount but said his office's major fraud division would need more personnel if it prosecutes cases arising from the investigation.

"I know you are aware that litigation can be expensive," Roger wrote in a letter to Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is a former defense attorney. "There is no doubt, based upon the nature of the allegations, that the case will be complex."

Roger said he anticipates adding two prosecutors, a legal secretary and an investigator to work on the case.

No criminal charges have been filed against any of the doctors linked to the outbreak, although a number of lawsuits have been filed.

The Metropolitan Police Department requested $260,000 to pay for organizing more than 100,000 patient records seized from the endoscopy center's offices.

Police collected the records to ensure their availability to investigators. However, each clinic had its own filing system, and finding individual records has proven to be a labor-intensive and difficult task.

"To pull one record, we literally have to go searching through boxes," said police Capt. Al Salinas. "We have to do a hand search."

The department has more than 1,000 records requests pending. The priority is about 250, which are for medical reasons; about 85 of those have been completed so far.

The $260,000 would cover a one-year contract with Chart-One, which has been hired to move the 2,000 boxes of records to a permanent location, organize them and create an index that could locate a file using a patient's name, birth date and Social Security number. A ChartOne employee also will fill records requests.

As it stands, the Police Department is on the hook for the costs, but officials are hoping other entities will chip in.

"Any time you have to defer that amount of money away from our other operations, it certainly impacts us," Salinas said. "But this needs to be done."

The City Council is scheduled to consider the funding requests at its regular meeting Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., launched a bid in April to obtain federal funding for Southern Nevada authorities investigating the hepatitis C outbreak. In a letter to two other Senate leaders, the majority leader asked that $5.25 million be inserted into an upcoming spending bill for blood tests and follow-ups of former patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. The funds also would cover other expenses incurred by the health district.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

 

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