CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, who wants an
all-out effort to prevent clinic practices linked to a hepatitis C outbreak, would have more state staffers for that effort if he hadn't fought approval of additional medical surveyors last year.
As part of his anti-new tax or fee policy, Gibbons cut 10 new surveyor positions from a proposed state Bureau of Licensure and Certification budget during the 2007 legislative session.
Lawmakers challenged the first-term Republican governor, who had
threatened to veto any tax or fee increases, and in the end approved six new positions. That brought the division's total of surveyors, whose pay is covered by fees paid by clinics that get surveyed, to 49.
Even with the mid-2007 approvals, however, the bureau is running short-staffed. Thirteen surveyor positions remain vacant, although several may be filled by April. The explanation for the vacancies
is the difficulty in finding qualified applicants, rather than a state hiring freeze ordered by Gibbons in response to a looming revenue shortfall.
"The governor's position on not allowing these new positions was wrong during the 2007 session," said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who chairs a panel looking into the hepatitis C issue. "It's almost criminal that all these inspectors weren't added simply because he didn't want to raise a fee."
"The public's health has been jeopardized because we don't have sufficient inspectors in the field," Leslie said Friday. "It's a horrifying situation."
To get the statewide inspections done quickly, Nevada is getting help from the federal Centers for Disease Control. The first CDC staffers are due Tuesday, and more are expected later in the week.
Gibbons spokesman Daniel Burns countered, "As far as finger-pointing and who fought who during the 2007 legislative session, we're not even going there now. We have a problem in March 2008 and we're dealing with that now."
"We can finger-point all we want after we take care of the health and safety of the people of the state of Nevada," Burns said.
Burns also said "everything will be on the table" in planning to prevent any future problems with clinic practices. But, he added, "There are other ways to do that than raising taxes and fees."
Six cases of acute hepatitis, a potentially deadly virus that attacks the liver, have been traced to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. Another 40,000 patients have been notified that they are at risk and should be tested for hepatitis and HIV. The clinic has been temporarily closed and fined $3,000.
Health officials believe the virus was spread when clinic nurses used the same syringe twice to administer anesthesia, contaminating the vial. The staff also was found treating multiple patients with vials of medication intended for a single patient only.
The Bureau of Licensure and Certification, in charge of inspections at outpatient clinics, has begun reviewing all other ambulatory surgical centers in the state and turned up several infractions.
The bureau has been criticized for falling behind on its inspection schedule. The Endoscopy Center had not received a full inspection since December 2001, despite a bureau policy of inspecting ambulatory surgical centers every three years.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)