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Doctor linked to hepatitis C outbreak surrenders medical license

Dr. Dipak Desai, who ran the Southern Nevada clinics linked to a major hepatitis C outbreak, has surrendered his license to practice medicine in Nevada.

The Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners on Wednesday unanimously voted to accept the surrender of Desai’s license, an action that the board’s interim executive director, Douglas Cooper, described as "absolute and irrevocable."

"It is a reportable action to the National Practitioner Data Bank," Cooper said, noting that other states generally do not allow physicians to practice in their jurisdictions after such a move is taken.

Cooper said the board acted after receiving a Feb. 5 affidavit from Desai’s attorney, Kim Mandelbaum, that said he was not "competent to safely practice medicine due to physical and mental impairments arising from a series of strokes."

Mandelbaum, who notified the board in July that her client had a stroke, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Health officials have definitively linked nine contracted cases of hepatitis C to Desai’s clinics and have said an additional 106 cases were "possibly linked."

Wednesday’s action will have no effect on a criminal investigation under way, Clark County District Attorney David Roger said.

"A defendant’s competency can be an issue at time of trial, but it’s premature to discuss it at this point," Roger said.

Last month, Roger said prosecutors planned to take the hepatitis outbreak case before a grand jury in the "near future" to consider potential charges, but he would not identify possible targets. On Wednesday, he said prosecutors had yet to present the case to a grand jury.

In July, attorneys for Desai, 59, told the medical board that a stroke had made him incapable of recognizing a wristwatch.

Medical tests were performed to determine whether Desai could help attorneys in malpractice charges brought against him by the board. Las Vegas clinical neuropsychologist Thomas Kinsora found that Desai was "squarely on the borderline with regard to his ability to assist counsel," board records show.

Desai, said Kinsora, was "likely acceptably competent, but certainly not optimally competent."

Cooper said it is "very possible" that the board took Kinsora’s evaluation into account when voting to accept the surrender of his license.

Last summer, a longtime acquaintance of Desai told the Review-Journal that the physician suffered a stroke in 2007 during a flight to India. He had to be taken off the plane in Taiwan when flight attendants noticed that he continually was talking and stuttering, the acquaintance said.

The acquaintance said Desai was back at work full time in "a couple of weeks."

Members of the Hindu Temple in Summerlin, which Desai attended, have said recently that he often shows up and seems fine.

The surrender of the gastroenterologist’s license, Cooper said, will not preclude the board from proceeding on a pending disciplinary complaint.

Desai came under scrutiny in February 2008 when the Southern Nevada Health District linked several cases of hepatitis C to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada on Shadow Lane, where Desai was majority owner.

Cooper said that if the board finds Desai guilty of malpractice, that fact also will be noted to national authorities. Such a finding would carry more weight with medical officials who might be evaluating Desai’s reputation than a voluntary license surrender, he said.

Under state law, other punishments brought by the medical board could include a $5,000 fine and uncompensated community service.

Desai’s license previously was suspended, and he agreed to a temporary restraining order that barred him from practicing medicine.

Billie-Marie Morrison, an attorney for several people who have civil complaints against Desai, said Wednesday that the license surrender "does not actually affect the civil actions against him."

But she said his action has not helped him in the court of public opinion.

"If he were innocent in this case, if he wasn’t culpable, people know he would have fought for his license," she said.

In 2008, health officials notified 40,000 former patients about possible exposure to blood-borne diseases because of unsafe injection practices at the Shadow Lane clinic. More notifications followed to patients of a sister clinic, Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center.

Investigators said the outbreak resulted from nurse anesthetists reusing single-dose medicine vials among patients.

Clinic staff told health investigators they were ordered by administrators, principally Desai, to reuse supplies and medications to save money.

Review-Journal reporter Carri Geer Thevenot contributed to this report. Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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