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Vegas doctor tied to hepatitis C cases called competent for trial

September 22, 2011 |  3:32 pm

Syringe The owner of a chain of endoscopy clinics, Dr. Dipak Desai, appears one step closer to standing trial.

In 2008, Las Vegas-area health officials accused Desai’s clinics of violating the most basic of health standards. His staff allegedly reused medicine vials and syringes during anesthesia, purportedly to cut costs, the Las Vegas Sun reported, potentially exposing patients to blood-borne diseases. 

More than 40,000 former patients were told to seek testing for hepatitis and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the L.A. Times reported, and about 250 people infected with hepatitis have since filed medical malpractice lawsuits.

The hepatitis outbreak rattled a once-fast-growing state that critics said already offered subpar medical services. (An oft-told joke here: “Where do you go for great healthcare in Las Vegas?” Answer: “The airport.”)

County prosecutors charged Desai, who has given up his medical license, and two nurse anesthetists with various felonies, including neglect of patients and insurance fraud. Desai was scheduled to stand trial in March. He also faces federal charges.

His attorneys, however, argued that Desai suffered two strokes in recent years that left him unable to aid in his defense. After court-appointed experts agreed, Desai was sent to a state hospital for further evaluation and his trial was postponed.

Former patients feared he would be found incompetent with no chance of recovery -– meaning state charges against him would be dismissed.

But on Wednesday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that state experts had found Desai capable of standing trial. Though a judge will make the final determination on Desai's competency, former patients frustrated with the snail's pace of the legal proceedings said it was a welcome development.

"I'm very happy that he's not going to get away with it,” Patty Aspinwall, who said she contracted hepatitis C at one of Desai's clinics, told the Review-Journal. “I'm hoping justice will be done.”

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-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas
Twitter.com/ashleypowers

Photo: Authorities say staff at the clinics reused medicine vials and syringes during anesthesia, potentially exposing patients to blood-borne diseases. About 250 people who developed hepatitis C have filed suit. Shown here is an unrelated syringe. Credit: Adam Gault / Getty Images

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