Medical Board Replaces Top Officers, Makes Other Changes

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In response to a critical newspaper report, the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners is making consumer-friendly changes and replacing its two top officials.

The changes come after a Reno Gazette-Journal investigative series earlier this month and an audit of the panel ordered by state lawmakers.

Before the newspaper's series, only Larry Lessly and Dick Legarza could speak for the agency. Now, Tony Clark, the board's deputy executive secretary, is in charge.

Lessly and Legarza will retire later this year, board officials said.

Board lobbyist Keith Lee said the panel also is adding consumer-friendly features to its Web site and requiring better communications with patients who complain about doctors.

The newspaper's series found that patients were routinely left out of disciplinary investigations and hearings after they filed complaints with the board.

Some patients were never told the disposition of their complaints.

"The patients who file complaints against doctors will now get an update every 45 days on the status of the investigation," Lee said. "The complainants will also be invited to the (doctor's) disciplinary hearing."

The board also plans to put more information about doctors on its Web site. Last week, a list of disciplined doctors was added.

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, said he hopes the changes will make the panel more responsive to the public and doctors.

"Communication is a two-way street," Matheis said. "I'm hoping staff changes and the implementation of new laws will allow the board to make a break with the past.

"The board needs to hear what the public is saying, what the physicians are saying ... And the public needs to hear from the board, which I hope becomes more open," Matheis added.

The board is scheduled to discuss problems noted in the newspaper's series at its March 12 meeting.

The series showed the board's information about physicians is hard to find, incomplete and often wrong. It also found the panel has released inflated statistics to the public.

The newspaper also reported that while the number of Nevada doctors doubled over the last decade, the board's serious disciplinary actions have remained flat.