Police Reviewing Records Seized in Las Vegas Health Clinic Probe

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Local, state and federal investigators were sifting Tuesday through patient records and paperwork seized from six southern Nevada medical offices as part of a criminal probe of a clinic at the center of a hepatitis C outbreak.

"It's going to take a long time," Deputy Las Vegas Police Chief Kathy Suey said after police, FBI agents, and investigators with the state attorney general and Health and Human Services offices served search warrants Monday at six locations affiliated with the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada.

"We wanted to ensure that records weren't destroyed or anything like that," Suey said.

The joint investigation stems from a Southern Nevada Health District finding that Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada reused patient syringes carrying hepatitis C and administered multiple contaminated doses of medicine from single-dose vials.

Six patients at the Endoscopy Center of Nevada have been found to be infected with the potentially fatal hepatitis C virus. Another 40,000 are being notified to undergo blood tests for HIV and hepatitis strains B and C.

Dr. Dipak Desai, Endoscopy Center majority owner, released a statement late Monday expressing "sorrow and concern for those who
have been affected by this situation," but saying he could not answer questions due to legal issues.

"These unfounded allegations will be addressed in a court of law, when facts have been presented and substantiated," Desai said.

Clinic staffers told health investigators they were ordered to reuse supplies to save money, according to a city of Las Vegas administrator.

Police are expected to focus on possible medical negligence involving patient care, while state and federal authorities look at potential insurance fraud, Suey said.

"It's a complex case, but that's our specialty at the FBI," Special Agent Joseph Dickey said.

Suey said investigators kept patient records filed in an orderly manner so they can be retrieved if patients request them. She said police planned to announce by Friday the procedure for patients to obtain copies of their clinic records.

Five nurse anesthetists who worked at the clinics voluntarily surrendered their licenses last week, and Desai agreed late Friday
to stop practicing medicine until the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners completes an investigation.

The board's executive director, Tony Clark, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday that he asked the attending physicians of the six patients who contracted hepatitis C to follow in Desai's footsteps.

Clark said he could not immediately release the doctors' names because no official action had been taken.

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

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