The doctor behind the Southern Nevada Hepatitis Outbreak, Dr. Dipak Desai, has been ordered to undergo independent evaluations to determine if he is able to stand trial.
On January 2, 2008, the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) discovered an outbreak of acute hepatitis C from several persons who received procedures at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. During the investigation conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and the Nevada State Health Division Bureau of Licensure and Certification (BLC), it was determined that the Endoscopy Center was re-using syringes when administering injectable sedatives.
This re-using of syringes introduced the blood of patients (and any viruses therein) into vials of Propofol (a sedative made by drug company Teva Parenteral Medicines and distributor Baxter Healthcare) and then the vials were then re-used transmitting any contamination to the subsequent patients. Teva sells 50-milliliter vials of Propofol while most procedures at the Centers need no more than 10 or 20 milliliters, making contamination possible. Dr. Dipak Desai, a gastroenterologist, was the doctor behind the Centers.
On February 27, 2008, SNHD began notifying approximately 50,000 patients of the clinic of this possible exposure. The Notification consisted of patients who were treated at the clinic between March 2004 and mid January 2008, and had received anesthesia by injection. The patients were told to seek testing for hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV Based on observations made by BLC and the CDC an additional 13,000 individuals from a related clinic, the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center (DSEC) were later notified and encouraged to seek testing. Thus making the number of potential infected patients 63,000.
The CDC stated that this is the largest number of patients to be recalled for a “blood exposure” in US History.
Following on the heels of this notification process, patients who were infected with Hepatitis C brought several individual lawsuits, but significant numbers of the notified patients were granted class action status and began litigation in Clark County, Nevada. Hundreds of patients sought damages from the clinics, doctors and nurses who are accused of using bad injection practices.
This litigation soon ground to a halt. As accusations swirled about who reused syringes in the facility, the owner of the endoscopy center has taken center stage, Dr. Dipak Desai. The Endoscopy Center lost its business license in February 2008, and Desai surrendered his medical license on February 29, 2008. He filed for personal bankruptcy a short week later.
Criminal charges against Desai soon followed. He is scheduled to stand trial on March 14 on several felony charges, including racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients. Two former nurse anesthetists, Keith Mathas and Ronald Lakeman, also face charges.
In both the civil and criminal cases, Desai’s attorneys have argued that Desai had a stroke in 2008 that left Desai with a cognitive impairment and diminished his ability to assist his lawyers. Both the Plaintiffs in the Civil cases and Prosecutors have challenged this claim. In fact Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Staudaher filed court papers in June alleging that Desai is hiding “behind a curtain of mental and physical impairment so he can avoid facing consequences of his actions.”
Recently, Judge Jackie Glass (she presided over the OJ Simpson case in Nevada) ordered the appointment of two independent medical experts to conduct independent evaluations of Desai see if he is truly unable to assist in his own defense.