August 4, 2008

Restoring Trust is Goal of Three Candidates Vying for Key Medical Board Position

By Annette Wells



Three Nevadans seeking to replace the state Board of Medical Examiners' executive director have one goal in common - restoring the public's trust in a regulatory agency under fire for its handling of physicians involved in the nation's largest health crisis.

"My hope, if I get this job and I do my job properly, is that you guys (the media) won't have anything to write about the Board of Medical Examiners unless it is positive," said Louis Ling, legal counsel for the state Board of Pharmacy and one of three candidates vying for Tony Clark's position.

The other candidates are Dr. Don Havins, former executive director of the Clark County Medical Society, and Douglas Cooper, chief investigator for the medical board.

Clark, who is retiring in September, also acts as special counsel for the medical board.

The public and lawmakers have been critical of Clark for not immediately yanking the license of Dr. Dipak Desai and others within his gastroenterology group after learning that six patients had contracted hepatitis C at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada's Shadow Lane clinic.

Clark did, however, obtain a restraining order against Desai and Dr. Eladio Carrera, prohibiting them from practicing medicine in Nevada until after the case has been resolved.

Cooper, who has been with the medical board since 2001 and is leading the hepatitis C investigation as it relates to physicians, said he threw his hat into the ring based on his experience and knowledge of the board's inner workings.

He also said he works with doctors daily and understands laws that regulate them.

"My role has been, with the physicians, adversarial. I know that. But I've learned a lot, and I have something positive to bring to the table," he said.

He added that he knows what the board's problems are "and I know how to fix them."

Should he get selected, Cooper said, he understands he must work toward restoring trust among the public and state lawmakers, something that has been lost as a result of the hepatitis C outbreak.

Since late February, when tens of thousands of endoscopy clinic patients were told to get tested for hepatitis and HIV, the medical board has wrongly been accused of mishandling the investigation, Cooper said.

"We cannot take someone's license based on what's in the press," said Cooper, who serves on a national committee that certifies medical investigators.

Cooper, 58, is a disabled Army veteran. He spent time as a criminal investigator and in counterintelligence with the Army.

Like Cooper, Havins said there is a public relations problem with the medical board that needs to be fixed.

"I think I could help by pointing out some of the good things the board does," said Havins, who is a part-time ophthalmologist and an attorney.

As executive director of the Clark County Medical Society, Havins, 62, represented more than 1,000 medical doctors and doctors of osteopathic medicine.

The executive director's position is an ideal fit "because I am someone with a legal background, specifically in health law, and I have a medical background with management experience," Havins said.

Havins, the only Southern Nevada candidate, said he would push for a medical board branch office in Las Vegas. Currently, the board has a 150-square-foot room at the Board of Pharmacy's Las Vegas office.

Havins said the medical board should have a larger presence in Southern Nevada, where the public can make complaints and meet its members.

Though not a physician, Ling, 46, has management experience similar to that of Havins.

Ling has represented about 20 regulatory boards and has served on the state's Ethics Commission.

Last year, he was partly responsible for bringing to light the circumstances surrounding the death of a newborn at Summerlin Hospital. The infant was accidentally given zinc that was 1,000 times the amount her neonatologist had prescribed. She died of symptoms related to a zinc overdose.

The pharmacy board opened to the public the disciplinary hearing in which several pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and the hospital were fined for their culpability in the baby's death.

Ling said he applied for the medical board job because he constantly works closely with medical professionals and many members of his family are physicians. He likes management and enjoys working with regulatory agencies, he said.

"I've always viewed my position as trying to make whoever my client is able to do their jobs as best they can," Ling said. "This board, I'm looking forward to figuring out how it is run and how it can be improved."

The board is scheduled to discuss and select Clark's replacement Tuesday during a telephone conference. A committee has interviewed each of the candidates for the job, which pays $80,000 to $120,000 a year.

"I think all three are very good candidates with great credentials," said Clark, who joined the medical board in 2003. "The board would be well served with any of the three."

Contact reporter Annette Wells at [email protected] or 702- 383-0283.

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