Big crowd at public hearing on Nevada hepatitis outbreak

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - More than 200 people crowded into
hearing rooms in Las Vegas and Carson City, with dozens of them
airing concerns about a hepatitis C outbreak that sparked a massive
alert by health agencies and a sweeping probe of Nevada's 50
surgical centers.
All but about 15 of those attending the Legislative Health Care
Committee hearing were in Las Vegas. And of those in Carson City,
only a few spoke - including Gov. Jim Gibbons who outlined steps by
his administration to deal with the crisis.
Speaker after speaker, some of them in tears, pressed for major
changes in the regulation of Nevada's health care industry. Several
suggested, to applause, that doctors responsible for unsanitary
practices that led to the hepatitis outbreak are criminals who
should be imprisoned.
"I want to know that we have a medical terrorist here in
Nevada. This is a terrorist and he should be treated as such,"
said Melanie Montaldo, referring to Dr. Dipak Desai, who has
operated several southern Nevada clinics, including one where six
people had medical procedures and later got hepatitis C.
Montaldo said regulators must get beyond an attitude of "This
is Las Vegas, baby, roll the dice," and deal firmly with a problem
that is "disastrously huge."
Former state Assemblyman Doug Bache said he was a patient at one
of Desai's centers and is among about 40,000 people who went to the
centers and have been sent notices urging them to be tested for
hepatitis and HIV.
Bache said he's concerned that lawmakers will follow a typical
course of "stopgap" measures rather than take effective action,
adding, "You must take decisive action to fund the solutions."
Evelyn Canestra told lawmakers that she was shocked by "the
indifference, the callousness, the cavalier attitude" of both
doctors and medical staffers. She added that she's been advised to
get tested now to see if her medical care has endangered her - and
then to get retested several years from now.
State health officials last week completed inspections of all
but two of 50 Nevada clinics checked following the hepatitis
outbreak at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. Seven of the
inspected clinics had "major infection control problems, such as
the reuse of single-dose vials," according to a release from
Gibbons' office.
Besides the six cases linked to the Endoscopy Center, officials
have learned of a seventh case of the bloodborne liver disease
involving a patient at the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center in Las
Vegas in mid-2006.
Both centers are among six clinics headed by Desai. The clinics
that are part of Desai's group either have been shut down or face
operating restrictions pending the outcome of investigations into
practices at the Endoscopy Center that may have contaminated vials
of medication.
Gibbons wants three doctors serving on the state Board of
Medical Examiners to resign as part of his housecleaning efforts
following the hepatitis outbreak. He also ordered the removal of
the head of the state licensing bureau that oversees clinics
including the endoscopy centers.
The panel members, Drs. Javaid Anwar, S. Daniel McBride and
Sohail Anjum haven't resigned yet, but did recuse themselves from
any board meetings dealing with the endoscopy center.
Gibbons wants the three doctors replaced because of their
associations or business dealings with Desai, who served on
Gibbons' health care transition team following the governor's
November 2006 election. He also served on the Board of Medical
Examiners from 1993 to 2001. Desai has refused to answer questions
about the outbreak.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-03-24-08 2357EDT