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Tuesday, March 11, 2008 | 2 a.m.
In Today’s Sun
Beyond the Sun
Faced with a public health crisis, sinking confidence in Nevada’s medical care and questions about inadequate government oversight, Gov. Jim Gibbons is standing by his ideology: Regulation is not necessarily the answer.
Gibbons on Monday questioned whether Nevada needs to conduct more frequent inspections of facilities such as the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, where unsafe practices led to a hepatitis C outbreak and the notification that 40,000 people need to undergo tests for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.
“It’s premature for a change like that,” he said.
Gibbons compared inspecting Nevada’s 50 surgical centers to having enough state troopers to catch every speeder.
“We do not have enough highway patrolmen to stop everybody who makes a mistake,” Gibbons said. “We could inspect (surgical centers) annually and then pretty soon, have we done overkill?”
The analogy to speeders was a risky one because it threatens to offend people who could be infected.
When told of the governor’s comments, Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City and a family practice doctor, said: “Ironically, what caught this was when inspectors went in and observed what was happening. The bottom line is that inspections work.”
The state’s policy says the Endoscopy Center should have been inspected every three years. Instead, the center went seven years without review by the state’s small staff of inspectors. Inspectors went to the center in January, suspicious of a cluster of hepatitis C cases.
Gibbons called a news conference Monday following the revelation that he opposed raising fees last year to pay for more health inspectors.
The first-term Republican governor said the state has a $5.2 million surplus in the department’s budget that could be used to hire more inspectors. The real problem, said Gibbons and State Human Resources Director Mike Willden, is that the state can’t recruit fast enough to fill 14 vacancies with salaries of about $60,000 a year. The vacancies need to be filled by registered nurses, dietitians and other medical specialists.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who heads the interim health care committee, said the state should begin a more aggressive recruiting and retention program.
Gibbons stressed there were only six cases of hepatitis C in Southern Nevada and none in Northern Nevada. He called for better training of the staffs of the centers.
Assemblywoman Susan Gerhardt, D-Henderson, said Gibbons’ analogy to Highway Patrol troopers and speeders was insulting.
“If we had more health inspectors, we could have found this out sooner and saved some lives,” Gerhardt said. She, her husband and her mother all had procedures done at the Endoscopy Center. They are awaiting results of tests to determine whether they have been infected.
Sen. Joe Heck, R-Henderson, called for annual inspections of ambulatory surgical centers in a letter sent to Gibbons last week. He is currently serving a tour with the Army in Iraq.
Hardy defended the governor’s comments because the investigation is ongoing.
“I think the operative words (in the governor’s statements) are ‘not sure.’ It’s appropriate to not be sure,” he said. “It’s wise to keep options open.”