Tuesday, March 25, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The public may finally get answers — from doctors under oath — about the dangerous injection practices that led to the nation’s largest hepatitis C scare, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Monday.
To keep their city business license, the owners of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada will need to make their case at a public hearing April 7 in the Las Vegas City Council chambers.
Goodman said the city is in the process of subpoenaing the physicians who own the practice — majority owner Dr. Dipak Desai, Dr. Eladio Carrera, Dr. Clifford Carrol and Dr. Vishvinder Sharma. Ten other physicians worked at the clinics.
“I’ll be fair, but I’ll be very stern,” said Goodman, who has taken the lead among public agencies and officials in calling for accountability of the clinic’s owners. “I just feel that health care has to be scrupulously examined by the regulatory bodies.”
If they appear, it will be the first time the center’s owners answer questions in public about why the clinic’s nurses reused syringes and single-dose medicine vials.
The hazardous practices were announced Feb. 27 by the Southern Nevada Health District, which discovered them after six people contracted hepatitis C at the clinic. That prompted health officials to urge 40,000 clinic patients to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
Goodman ordered immediate action and on Feb. 29 the city suspended the clinic’s license, as well as that of its related practice, the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada.
Desai has voluntarily agreed to stop practicing medicine during the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners’ investigation of his conduct. The others may still be practicing at other affiliated clinics or in local hospitals.
Jim DiFiore, manager of the city’s business services division, said in his letter suspending the business license that the nurses knew that reusing the syringes and vials was dangerous, but that they were ordered to do so by administrators, principally Desai, to save money.
“He had willfully chosen, until he was caught, to mortally hazard his patients for profit,” DiFiore wrote of Desai.
Desai has not returned repeated calls from the Sun since the controversy broke.
When Goodman contacted other agencies he was told they were unable to take immediate action to shut down the clinic.
For example, the state Licensure and Certification Bureau, which regulates ambulatory surgical centers such as the Endoscopy Center, generally favors keeping a facility open if it corrects problems, officials have said. The Health District is concerned with infectious disease outbreaks, not with closing clinics that have corrected flawed practices. And officials from the Medical Examiners Board, widely criticized for not suspending Desai’s license, said they do not have the evidence for an immediate suspension.
Other agencies may take months to conclude their investigations, but Goodman said he’s never heard a greater public outcry that demands a quick answer to questions.
“We’re trying to lead by example on this one,” Goodman said.