The state Board of Medical Examiners has defended its investigation into a southern Nevada hepatitis outbreak, rejecting criticism from Gov. Jim Gibbons and several legislators that the panel's executive director moved too slowly on the probe.
Dr. Javaid Anwar, the board's president, said in a letter Monday to Gibbons and the lawmakers that two doctors already have been blocked from medical practice pending outcome of the investigation - which is more than any other regulatory board involved in the case has done.
Anwar said the board's investigations division is "vigorously, urgently and professionally" pursuing leads and interviewing witnesses, and cooperating with police in Las Vegas who also are investigating the outbreak.
Gibbons, joined by state Sens. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, Joe Heck, R-Henderson, and Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, complained last week about the board's actions, and also said Tony Clark, its executive director, had "demonstrated an unwillingness" to move swiftly in dealing with the problem.
"You are incorrect," Anwar said in his response, adding that Clark has been "actively pushing" the board's investigation since the board first learned of the crisis in late February.
The critics also had complained that three temporary board members, named in early April to help speed the investigation, still hadn't been contacted by the board. Anwar said all board members, including the new ones, have been told of the board's efforts to date and are meeting this week.
Anwar also noted that board members who must decide on any disciplinary actions against doctors can't be privy to the board's investigative findings in advance of hearings for doctors facing complaints, in order to ensure fair hearings.
Gibbons announced April 2 that Drs. Ronald Kline, Beverly Neyland and Robert Wiencek, all from southern Nevada, would temporarily replace Anwar and two other doctors with ties to Dr. Dipak Desai, owner of a Las Vegas clinic where flawed procedures led to the hepatitis outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent report that the staff at Desai's Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada likely caused the transmission of the bloodborne pathogen by "routinely mishandling injection equipment and single-use medication vials."
The CDC's report bolsters earlier conclusions by Clark County and state health officials about the outbreak that led to the biggest public health notification operation in U.S. history. Officials have linked 84 cases of the potentially deadly liver disease to the clinic and have notified 50,000 patients that they may be at risk.
Hepatitis C results in the swelling of the liver and can cause stomach pain, fatigue and jaundice. It may eventually result in liver failure. Even when no symptoms occur, the virus can slowly damage the liver.