Berkley calls for hearing on clinic incidents

WASHINGTON — Rep. Shelley Berkley on Thursday called for a congressional hearing on tainted medical clinics, saying the disclosure that 40,000 Las Vegas patients might have been exposed to hepatitis strains and HIV is “far from an isolated case.”

Berkley, D-Nev., asked the chairman of the House health subcommittee to convene experts to highlight outbreaks that have been linked to the reuse of contaminated equipment and unsafe clinic practices.

“These events cannot be ignored,” Berkley said in a letter to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the chairman.

Other Nevada lawmakers were in contact with federal and local health officials Thursday to better understand the scope of what has been called the largest patient notification of its kind.

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., said his office had received calls from constituents “asking what should they do and where should they go.”

Porter said he was awaiting a call from Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and had scheduled meetings in Las Vegas today with county health officers.

Porter said there were several potential avenues for federal involvement. A number of patients were enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, or were military veterans. He said a number of issues were unclear, such as who would pay for patient testing.

“Right now, we just want to help,” he said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was watching the situation “to determine if further federal actions are needed,” a spokesman said.

Berkley was flying to Las Vegas on Thursday evening and was not available for comment. The congresswoman was not calling for a congressional investigation of the Las Vegas incident at this time, spokesman David Cherry said.

“There have been incidents happening across the country at a frequency that it is a disturbing pattern in her mind,” Cherry said. “What can we do to prevent these kind of incidents?”

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