Health Law

Doctor and nurse at trial in murder case over Hep C transmission at endoscopy clinics

Last month, a Nevada jury awarded a record $524 million to three individuals over a Hepatitis C outbreak that allegedly was caused by extreme cost-cutting measures at a medical provider’s endoscopy clinics.

Although the civil verdict is being appealed by the defendant health management organization that directed individuals to the clinic, it sent shock waves through the health-care industry and its insurers. Now, in another landmark case over the same Hep C outbreak, a Las Vegas jury is being asked by the state to hold a doctor and his assistant criminally responsible for allegedly transmitting the incurable liver disease to more than half a dozen patients at the clinics, including one who died. An additional 105 former patients also have Hep C, though it hasn’t been genetically tied to a strain allegedly spread at the clinics, and some 50,000 were tested in 2008 as a result of the 2007 outbreak.

Clinic operator Dr. Dipak Desai, 63, who has since surrendered his medical license, and former nurse-anesthetist Ronald Lakeman, 65, face charges which range from theft, insurance fraud and criminal neglect of patients to murder. If convicted of the charges they face in the Clark County District Court case, Desai and Lakeman could be sentenced to life in prison, the Associated Press reported Monday, as the prosecution gave its opening statements.

Another nurse who had been charged in the case took a plea and is expected to testify against the two men. Keith Mathahs, 77, pleaded guilty in December to five felony charges and could get sentenced to anything from probation to six years in prison.

On Tuesday, as the defense weighed in, at the outset of what is expected to be a six-week trial, lawyers for Desai and Lakeman emphasized a lack of intent to harm patients, reasonable doubt and, in the nurse-anesthesist’s case, that he was simply a dutiful employee doing his job, another Associated Press article recounts.

In the first trial concerning the hundreds of civil cases filed against the maker and distributor of a drug implicated in the Hep C outbreak, jurors in the Las Vegas district court case also made a massive award, of a little over $500 million in 2010.

An injection form of the anesthetic propofol was blamed for the Hep C outbreak at the Desai clinics because oversized vials were reused and spread the disease among patients, according to news reports, although reusing the vials did not comply with standard medical practice.

An earlier Associated Press article and an International Pharmaceutical Quality newsletter article discuss the award, which was appealed.

See also:

Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Desai ran clinic like ‘assembly line,’ prosecutor says”

Las Vegas Review-Journal: “No criminal wrongdoing at Desai clinic, defense attorney says”

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