The latest twist in a case full of them finds a Las Vegas doctor accused of exposing patients to hepatitis C ruled competent to stand trial.
Despite initially being found incompetent due to the effects of 2 strokes suffered in recent years, Dipak Desai, MD, is now set to stand trial on criminal charges stemming from a 2008 hepatitis C outbreak, along with 3 staff members from his Las Vegas-area endoscopy clinics. Nevada state medical experts who recently examined Dr. Desai found that he is mentally fit enough to proceed, said David Roger, district attorney for Clark County, Nevada, in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Dr. Desai and 2 of his nurse anesthetists, Keith Mathahs, CRNA, and Ronald Lakeman, CRNA, now face a March 12, 2012, trial date on felony charges including racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients.
Another trial is scheduled to begin on May 22, 2012, in which Dr. Desai and his clinic manager, Tonya Rushing, face a count of conspiracy and 25 counts of healthcare fraud. An indictment alleges that the pair carried out a scheme from January 2005 through February 2008 to inflate the length of medical procedures and overbill health insurance companies, the newspaper reported.
Among other charges, Dr. Desai is alleged to have encouraged unsafe injection practices that led to 7 patients being infected with hepatitis C, an outbreak that was discovered in early 2008.
The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, along with 5 affiliated centers that Dr. Desai also owned, were shuttered in March 2008 after an investigation found the center had reused syringes, single-use vials of anesthesia and scope-cleaning solution. At that time, the Southern Nevada Health District also notified 40,000 of the center's patients that they may have been exposed to hepatitis C as well as hepatitis B and HIV. About 250 former patients infected with hepatitis have since filed medical malpractice lawsuits.
Along with Mr. Mathahs and Mr. Lakeman, Dr. Desai was indicted on 28 felony counts in 2010. Dr. Desai pleaded not guilty to the charges. Originally scheduled to stand trial in March 2011, Dr. Desai's attorneys argued that he was unable to aid in his own defense as a result of suffering 2 strokes. Court-appointed experts agreed. Dr. Desai was sent to a state hospital for more evaluation, which effectively postponed his trial.
State medical authorities have now found Dr. Desai fit to continue with legal proceedings. Elizabeth Neighbors, PhD, director of the state's mental health hospital in Sparks, revealed the results in letters last week, which indicated that Dr. Desai "'meets the criteria to be considered competent to proceed with adjudication,'" Mr. Roger told the press.
Eighth Judicial District Judge Kathleen Delaney will hold a hearing to accept the hospital's reports and make a final determination on Dr. Desai's competency. The doctor's attorney will have an opportunity to dispute the findings.
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