Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada Loses License, Pays Fine

Yesterday the City of Las Vegas handed out a stiff punishment to the owners of the <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Endoscopy_Center">Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, the clinic where unsanitary practices many have exposed thousands of people to hepatitis and HIV. Not only has the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada lost its business license, but the owners of the practice were hit with a $500,000 fine.  But many angry patients who attended a hearing of the city council said they hoped the investigation into the Endoscopy Center’s abuses would eventually result in criminal indictments.

In February, the Southern Nevada Health District sent letters to 40,000 people treated at the clinic, advising them to get tested for hepatitis B and C, and HIV.  The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada has been under investigation since early January, after health officials learned of three people who had been diagnosed with hepatitis C after being treated there.   Ultimately, the Southern Nevada Health District said a total of  six people were known to have contracted hepatitis C after being treated at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.  Five of them were treated the same day in late September; the sixth is believed to have been infected in July, the district said. The Southern Nevada Health District investigation revealed that “unsafe injection practices related to the administration of anesthesia medication might have exposed patients to the blood of other patients.” Last week, a seventh hepatitis C victim, who had been treated at a clinic owned by the same group that owns the Endoscopy Center,  was identified.

The hepatitis C virus may have been spread when clinic staff reused syringes and used a single dose of anesthesia medication on multiple patients, the district said. A syringe would become contaminated by the backflow of blood when patients with a blood-borne disease were injected with medication, health officials said. That syringe, in turn, would be reused to withdraw medication from a different vial. That vial could become contaminated and result in infection.

The subsequent investigation of the clinic revealed even more substandard practices.  Several staff members told investigators that biopsy equipment labeled for single use was reused for multiple patients after disinfection.   Others reported that they were directed to reuse bite blocks – devices put in patients’ mouths for some procedures – on multiple patients.

Attendees at yesterday’s hearing had hoped to hear from Dr. Dipak Desai and others involved in the Endoscopy Center scandal.  But there was little legal weight behind the city’s request that they testify.  Instead, the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and an affiliated clinic lost their business licenses, which the city had already suspended on February 29.  According to a report for in the Las Vegas Sun, lawyers for the clinic had contacted the mayors office looking to avoid a full-blown hearing.  They agreed to accept the city’s decision to rescind the business license, and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine.  The fine was paid at yesterday’s hearing.

Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman said the money could be used to a assist those who were directly affected by the Endoscopy Center debacle.  The mayor said it could be spent to offset the cost of blood tests to determine whether the 40,000 people advised to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Goodman also mentioned that it would cost an estimated $500,000 to hire an outside business to organize medical records Metro Police confiscated from the clinic.

Several people attending the meeting – many of them former patients of the Endoscopy Center – told the Las Vegas Sun that they wanted to see more action – preferably in the form of criminal charges – taken against Desai and others.  They could have their wish granted soon , as a criminal investigation of the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada’s clinics – one of which is the Endoscopy Center – is currently underway.

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