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Surgeon wants probation cut back so he can resume practice

After 18 months on probation, Dr. Mark Kabins wants a pass on serving out his full five years.

Kabins’ felony conviction has thrown up roadblocks to his practicing medicine. Hospitals have yanked his privileges. Insurance companies have dropped him as a provider. The federal government has banned him from practice that involves any government programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. He can’t work in military or veterans hospitals.

North Vista Hospital in North Las Vegas permitted him to join its staff, but other hospitals do not.

Kabins pleaded guilty to misprision of felony, essentially seeing a crime and not reporting it, which sounds pretty benign, like he was merely an observer of the bad deeds of others.

But the plea bargain he signed indicated a more active role.

Kabins admitted his patient Melodie Simon, paralyzed from the chest down, could bring a viable lawsuit against him. He admitted he approached Howard Awand and asked the medical consultant to persuade Simon’s attorney, Noel Gage, not to sue him and his partner Dr. John Thalgott, who performed Simon’s initial back surgery in 2000.

Kabins, Thalgott, Awand and Gage held a secret meeting to plot how to shift all the blame for Simon’s paralysis to an anesthesiologist. In exchange, Gage received a referral for a lucrative personal injury case from Awand.

Kabins, Gage and Awand are the only three convicted in what began as a broad federal investigation into whether dozens of doctors and lawyers conspired to run up insurance costs in personal injury cases in Las Vegas. Thalgott was a cooperating witness.

Kabins has paid Simon $3.5 million as part of the plea agreement. Even she has asked the judge to terminate the back surgeon’s probation. She has returned to his care and firmly believes his delay in treating her after Thalgott first operated on her is not the cause of her paralysis.

As cynics note, she has not returned Kabins’ $3.5 million despite her belief he was not responsible. She has been paid a total of $7 million in settlements, most negotiated by government prosecutors.

Kabins has met all the conditions set by U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush of Spokane, including 340 hours of community service, 90 hours more than ordered, and a medical ethics class.

Kabins’ attorney David Chesnoff said if the judge ends probation, that’s the preliminary step so Kabins can try to persuade medical and insurance entities to reconsider allowing Kabins to practice, despite his felony conviction.

Glowing letters of support for Kabins were written by officials at North Vista Hospital, friends and associates. Most stressed that if the probation is terminated, Kabins can perform back surgeries on more people, and that will help patients. They didn’t seem to understand that it’s not the probation stopping him from practicing; it’s the felony conviction.

Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said in an email Friday: “We will be filing a response at the appropriate time. It will be up to the court as to whether to hold a hearing or decide simply on the papers.”

The judge never thought much of the government’s case, dismissing it at one point, only to have it reinstated by an appeals court. There’s also the argument that competent back surgeons are needed.

No matter how sleazy and self-serving Kabins’ actions were — and his actions to save himself at the expense of others never cease to repulse me — some people swear by his surgical skills and comforting bedside manner. The Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners has allowed him to continue practicing, so they don’t see him as a danger to others. Perhaps opening the door to letting Kabins practice is the right thing to do.

Prosecutors aren’t expected to see it that way, but the judge probably will.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison

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