Doctor shortage seen as worse than outbreak

The hepatitis C alert resulting from unsafe anesthesia practices at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada has captured national headlines thanks to its status as the largest-ever case of its kind.

But Dr. William Plested III, immediate past president of the American Medical Association, said Thursday that the Las Vegas Valley faces bigger long-term health concerns.

Asked after a local speech whether the public health scare would hurt the medical community’s image or make it difficult to attract businesses to Las Vegas, Plested said he didn’t think the incidents involving the endoscopy clinic would permanently harm the city’s reputation.

Plested said outside perceptions of the local medical community are already formed "in large part by (the city’s) outstanding trauma care."

In addition, he said, because the hepatitis outbreak seems confined to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, it’s limited enough to avoid indicting the entire local health care system.

Worse for business recruiting than the hepatitis outbreak, Plested said, is Southern Nevada’s shortage of primary care doctors.

Quality health care is essential to attracting new businesses to the city, Plested said. And key among health indicators is the number of doctors providing patient care. Statistics from the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners show the state in 2004 ranked No. 47 in the nation for its ratio of doctors to citizens. The Silver State had 161 physicians per 100,000 people, well below the national average of 256 doctors for every 100,000 residents.

Nevada ranks No. 50 in the number of nurses per capita and No. 49 in the number of hospital beds per 100,000 people, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Long after headlines about the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada have disappeared, Nevada probably will still be grappling with its shortage of health professionals, Plested said.

"Primary care is incredibly lacking here," he said. "The endoscopy issue is not nearly as bad a long-term problem as the fact that you’re under-doctored."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or (702) 380-4512.

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