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Endoscopy Center scandal goes far beyond a matter of negligence

The doctors and nurse anesthesiologists at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada need to lose their licenses to practice. What they’ve done is beyond callous. It’s criminal.

I have no doubt District Attorney David Roger will reach the same conclusion that this wasn’t simply negligence.

Sticking needles more than once in partially used vials was a way to save money, but no one with any kind of medical training can possibly think that was safe.

It was cheaper, but the six confirmed cases of hepatitis C is clear and convincing evidence it was dangerous.

When this story broke, I hoped that there would be a whistle-blower involved. Someone who said, "This is wrong," and had reported the practice to authorities.

No way. Not even a former employee went to authorities to say this was wrong. No wonder our kids are afraid to finger shooters.

Instead, government bureaucrats (a term despised by many anti-government types) did their jobs correctly at the Southern Nevada Health District and connected the dots between hepatitis C cases and the Endoscopy Center, and they announced last week that 40,000 people are being notified they need to be tested for hepatitis B and C and HIV.

Not all will be sick. But there’s a multiplication factor here. The potential deadly threat expands to spouses, children, sexual partners and others who might catch life-threatening illnesses through contaminated blood.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and city officials did the right thing by yanking the center’s business license and closing it down. The owners shouldn’t keep profiting despite belatedly changing their procedures.

Now the boards that regulate the doctors, nurses and staff need to get off their duffs.

Those who will defend their callousness by saying they were "just following orders" shouldn’t be able to hide behind that defense. It wasn’t a successful defense for Nazi war criminals. It didn’t work in the My Lai massacre or in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

When lives are at risk, just following orders should never be an excuse.

This scandal is more like the Ford Pinto scandal, where it was all about money. Ford decided it was cheaper to pay wrongful-death claims than fix the design of the car.

Las Vegas attorney Will Kemp, whose late father, Dr. William Kemp, was the first anesthesiologist in Las Vegas, is one of the attorneys who filed a class-action lawsuit against the center. He’s not one of those chumming for clients in newspaper and television ads. He has said nurse anesthesiologists have told investigators, "We told them what we were doing was wrong. They told us to just keep doing it."

The center’s majority owner Dr. Dipak Desai (I have trouble calling him doctor) wasn’t man enough to step forward and apologize in person. He sent someone else to be the front man at the news conference announcing this catastrophe of his making. His apology in an ad that promises to help pay for tests for the uninsured is something, but because he has known about this since Jan. 12, it seems like he might have been more prepared to respond faster than this.

Political connections and friends on the Board of Medical Examiners where he once served shouldn’t protect him. The board that regulates other staff members, particularly the nurse anesthesiologists, shouldn’t dillydally.

The scandal, with a federal investigation into local doctors and lawyers who are accused of conspiring to profit at the expense of patients, is destroying the most valuable thing between Las Vegans and their medical providers: Trust.

Our ethical health care providers are often our heroes. We must be able to trust them.

Those money grubbers responsible for this are probably having sleepless nights as they realize they might face financial ruin and lose their livelihood. Good.

But their suffering cannot compare with the pain and suffering of the six infected patients and the mental anguish of those who fear they’re infected but won’t know immediately because of incubation periods.

Just following orders? Shame on everyone who knew this was wrong and kept silent. Shame on everyone who went along with this for four years. But most of all, shame on those villains who profited.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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