Published Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 | 2:05 p.m.
Updated Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 | 6:25 p.m.
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A trio of state psychiatric evaluators testified Friday they think former high-profile Las Vegas physician Dipak Desai has been exaggerating at how impaired his mental ability is from two strokes.
The three, who each testified via video conferencing from the state’s Lakes Crossing mental health unit in Sparks, all reached the same conclusion — despite some impairment from the two strokes, Desai is competent to stand trial in connection with the 2007-2008 hepatitis C outbreak at his colonoscopy clinics.
After hearing about seven hours of testimony, Clark County District Judge Kathleen Delaney told attorneys just before 5 p.m. Friday that she didn’t have time to hear their closing arguments then.
Delaney told prosecutors and Desai's defense team they could have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to submit their closing arguments in written form. The judge said she would then have a ruling form them in a timely manner on whether Desai is competent to stand trial.
Desai, 62, a former gastroenterologist who ran the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, and two of his nurse anesthetists, Keith H. Mathahs and Ronald E. Lakeman, were indicted by a grand jury in 2010 on 28 criminal counts related to the 2007-2008 hepatitis outbreak.
Each is accused of infecting patients at Desai clinics with incurable hepatitis C.
The felony charges include racketeering, performance of an act in reckless disregard of persons or property, criminal neglect of patients, insurance fraud, theft and obtaining money under false pretenses.
That trial has been delayed until March 12, pending the outcome of the competency hearing.
Desai also faces federal conspiracy and fraud charges on a separate indictment handed up last April in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. Desai's attorney, Richard Wright, pleaded not guilty on Desai's behalf, and also argued that Desai is not competent for that trial.
The hepatitis outbreak prompted health officials to recommend testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV for about 50,000 patients. The Health District said patients might have been infected when nurses and other staff members reused syringes on endoscopy patients.
The Health District also notified all patients who had undergone procedures at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada between March 2004 and January 2008 that they were at risk for possible exposure.
Desai was taken into state custody on March 17, 2011, after former Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass ruled on Feb. 8, 2011, that he was incompetent and ordered that he be treated in hopes he could be returned to competency to stand trial.
While he was in Lakes Crossing, his trial was delayed by Judge Donald Mosley until March of this year.
Wright went over medical reports almost line by line today with the medical personnel who evaluated Desai over six months.
The three evaluators, Sally Farmer, a psychologist, Lindell Bradley, a geriatric psychiatrist, and Steven Zuchowski, a forensic psychiatrist, each said they used two methods to evaluate Desai.
Part of their evaluations were based on the reports they got from the forensic staff at the Lakes Crossing who informally interacted day to day with Desai during his six months there.
They said the staff reported on at least six occasions Desai carried on complex conversations with the staff about topics that included presidential politics. They said he even avoided the “bullies” at the state facility.
However, the evaluators each said when they tested Desai or they personally interviewed him, he would become guarded in his responses. They said he would exaggerate his responses to appear more impaired than he was.
Bradley testified that when he interviewed Desai, Desai told him he thought he had been sent to the state facility because he had suffered a stroke and he said he didn’t know the month or the year.
Bradley said he didn’t think all of it was being faked.
“I think he probably has some impairments,” Bradley said. However, the degree of the impairments was “fairly minimal,” he said.
Farmer said the tests she gave to Desai showed he scored considerably lower than she would have expected, because his scores were even lower than people with dementia. She said people with scores that low have trouble grooming and dressing themselves and only speak in sentence fragments.
“I believe he’s exaggerating the extent of his memory deficits,” Farmer said.
Zuchowski also said Desai has some impairment but not enough that he couldn’t participate in helping defend himself in a trial.
Zuchowski said Desai should be given extra time to be able to comprehend questions and provide answers to questions because he has trouble with his speech in finding the right words to express himself.