A registered nurse who once worked for Dr. Dipak Desai provided damaging testimony Friday against both Desai and his co-defendant, nurse anesthetist Ronald Lakeman, in their criminal trial stemming from the hepatitis C outbreak.
Rod Chaffee, who was fired in May 2007 just before the outbreak, built on the testimony of earlier witnesses when he said that Desai on a daily basis started procedures before patients were fully sedated and pulled out scopes too fast at the end of procedures, causing cramps and discomfort to patients.
When Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Staudaher asked Chaffee how he knew patients were still awake when procedures began, Chaffee responded that some still were talking.
“He (Desai) said they’re not going to remember, anyway,” Chaffee testified.
Chaffee, who received immunity to testify, said Desai clearly was the fastest when performing upper endoscopies and colonoscopies and berated other physicians and staffers who moved too slowly.
In his assembly line mentality, Desai would yell, “Get them out, get them out,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee also said he saw Lakeman reuse needles and syringes on patients.
Health officials concluded that the combination of double-dipping syringes into bottles of the anesthetic propofol used on multiple patients spread the blood-borne virus from patients infected with hepatitis C on two different dates in 2007.
Prosecutors contend a Desai-created work environment that placed profit above the well-being of patients led to unsafe injection practices and the outbreak.
Chaffee testified that Lakeman would vent his frustrations with Desai over the nonstop workload when the two had dinner together.
“He said if the (expletive) ever hit the fan, he wasn’t going to cover for him,” Chaffee testified.
Desai, 63, and Lakeman, 66, are standing trial in the courtroom of District Judge Valerie Adair on more than two dozen charges, including murder, criminal neglect of patients, theft and insurance fraud.
The charges focus on the cases of seven hepatitis infections health officials linked to Desai’s Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. One of the patients, Rodolfo Meana, died last year.
Desai gave up his medical license after health officials disclosed the hepatitis outbreak in early 2008.
Chaffee, who began working at the endoscopy center in 2003, attributed his firing to erratic behavior caused by the untimely death of his wife in 2006, which he said was a homicide.
“I wasn’t the same person after that,” he said. “I was a basket case.”
Desai, as he has done with prosecution witnesses through most of the five weeks of testimony, did not look directly at Chaffee while he testified.
Defense lawyers will resume cross-examining Chaffee on Monday when the trial resumes.
Desai’s former office manager, Tonya Rushing, is to testify next week. She is charged in a federal health care fraud case with Desai but has received immunity to testify in the state case.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.