Doctors find Desai is competent to stand trial

State medical experts have found Dr. Dipak Desai competent to stand trial on criminal charges in the hepatitis C outbreak, District Attorney David Roger confirmed Wednesday.

Roger said Dr. Elizabeth Neighbors, director of the state’s mental health hospital in Sparks, revealed the results in letters this week.

"She indicated that three doctors examined Desai and found that he ‘meets the criteria to be considered competent to proceed with adjudication,’ " Roger said.

District Judge Kathleen Delaney, who oversees all competency issues, confirmed late Wednesday that the Lakes Crossing facility had told her of the results.

Desai will be brought back to Las Vegas, where Delaney will hold a hearing to accept the hospital’s reports and make a final determination on his competency. His lawyer, Richard Wright, who declined comment, will have an opportunity to dispute the findings.

Desai, 61, was taken to Lakes Crossing in March for observation. Court-appointed medical experts from Las Vegas at the time had found him incompetent to stand trial because of the effects of two strokes.

Late Wednesday, two former patients who say they contracted hepatitis C at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada welcomed the latest news about Desai’s health.

"That’s great," Kenneth Nogle said. "Hopefully all his lies will catch up with him."

Patty Aspinwall called it "the best news I’ve heard in a long time."

Desai’s competency had been in question for so long that she worried he might never face the criminal charges.

"I’m very happy that he’s not going to get away with it," she said. "I’m hoping justice will be done."

Desai and two of his nurse anesthetists, Keith Mathahs and Ronald Lakeman, face a March 12, 2012, trial before District Judge Donald Mosley on felony charges, including racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients.

The charges revolve around seven people who authorities say were infected with the potentially deadly hepatitis C virus at Desai’s endoscopy clinics.

Desai also faces federal charges stemming from the hepatitis outbreak.

He also is to be tried May 22, 2012, with Tonya Rushing, his clinic manager, on one count of conspiracy and 25 counts of health care fraud. An indictment alleged the pair carried out a scheme from January 2005 through February 2008 to inflate the length of medical procedures and overbill health insurance companies.

Rushing is a key witness in the district attorney’s case and has expressed her anger over being indicted in the federal case.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Staudaher, who is prosecuting Desai locally, has previously questioned whether the physician has been exaggerating the effects of his strokes.

In court papers, Staudaher accused Desai of hiding "behind a curtain of mental and physical impairment" to avoid the consequences of his actions.

Las Vegas police launched an investigation shortly after health officials disclosed the hepatitis C outbreak in February 2008.

Desai came under scrutiny after the Southern Nevada Health District linked cases of hepatitis C to his clinics.

Officials notified more than 50,000 former clinic patients about possible exposure to blood-borne diseases because of unsafe injection practices.

As many as 250 former clinic patients infected with hepatitis have filed medical malpractice lawsuits. Thousands more have sued over the stress of having to be tested for hepatitis C.

Local health officials blamed the outbreak on nurse anesthetists reusing vials of the sedative propofol that were contaminated by syringes used on patients with hepatitis C.

Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report.Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal .com or 702-380-8135.

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