Independent probe of hepatitis outbreak refused

Gov. Jim Gibbons says he won't name a special counsel to investigate doctors linked to a hepatitis C outbreak, saying the responsibility rests with the state Board of Medical Examiners.

In turn, two lawmakers who sought the independent investigation are now seeking assurances from the medical board's president that its probe will be thorough.

"We're just trying to keep the pressure on," said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

In a letter to Dr. Javaid Anwar, the medical board president, Leslie and Senate Minority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, also said the board should "not impede" law enforcement agencies and other governmental entities looking into the public health crisis.

Their letter highlights the responsibilities of executive director Tony Clark under Nevada law and the overall duties of the board.

"We're on track to having the largest hepatitis C outbreak in the nation, and we have a medical board that doesn't want to cooperate with law enforcement," said Leslie, referring to Clark's refusal earlier this month to turn over to Las Vegas police any complaints filed against Dr. Dipak Desai, majority owner of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada's Shadow Lane clinic. "This all seems like a bad dream."

Clark has since turned over the records, according to the lawmakers' letter, but not until the last day to comply with a grand jury subpoena.

Thousands of Endoscopy Center patients were notified to get tested for hepatitis and HIV viruses after health officials found unsafe injection practices there.

Leslie said the medical board has been slow to react to the health crisis, and she and other officials had criticized the medical board for what they saw as a response to concerns of physicians and not the public. That was a reason behind the request for a governor-appointed special counsel.

Leslie and Horsford sent Gibbons a letter April 25 urging an independent investigation into the 14 doctors who worked at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, where health officials think 84 people might have contracted hepatitis C.

Ben Kieckhefer, Gibbons' press secretary, said the governor did discuss the request with his legal counsel but felt he had already taken "very specific action" to ensure the public's trust in the medical board.

On April 2, Gibbons appointed three members to the medical board as replacements for Drs. Anwar, Sohail Anjum and Daniel McBride, who had recused themselves from matters related to the hepatitis C outbreak because they have relationships with Desai.


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