Authorities investigating the Las Vegas clinic at the center of a large hepatitis C outbreak say the investigation has been slowed by clinic workers who have refused to talk.
"I'd be very surprised if we don't go into next year," Las Vegas police Capt. Al Salinas said of the investigation of the Endoscopy center of Southern Nevada. "It's going to be a long investigation."
Salinas is leading of a group of detectives who are interviewing witnesses and reviewing patient files to build cases against those believed to be responsible for the transmission of the bloodborne pathogen.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Mitchell said some clinic workers have given statements, but nurse anesthetists and doctors have been reluctant to cooperate with investigators.
"We could stand to have a few people do the right thing and not worry so much about self-preservation," Mitchell said. "The longer you wait, the less we'll need you and the less willing we'll be to offer some sort of deal to you."
Federal and local public health officials have blamed the outbreak on practices of reusing syringes and single-use medication vials. The outbreak 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.
Mitchell said that criminal charges including medical neglect could be filed within three or four months if the investigation continues at its current pace.
"Some people are becoming less obvious targets, and some people are becoming more obvious targets," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the charges would focus on the confirmed infections to keep the case from getting too big.
Salinas said the investigation is a priority for the department but won't be rushed.
"People want closure. They want resolution, but we have to cross our T's and dot our I's," Salinas said.
"Maybe it's going to take the first few prosecutions before the rest realize this is serious," he said.