Could the Las Vegas Hepatitis Problem Have Been Prevented By Stiffer Penalties?
I grew up in Las Vegas, and will always think of it as home even though I'll likely never live there again. So I've followed the story of the Hepatitis outbreak more closely than if it would have happened in some other city. Today I came across an op-ed comparing the harsh penalties that the Nevada DMV imposes on irresponsible drivers with the light penalties the endoscopy clinic received when it violated health and safety regulations:
In fact, the average procrastinating car owner could easily end up spending more than the amount that the Bureau of Licensure levied against the endoscopy center for each of its three "deficiencies." Although the city of Las Vegas forced the closure of the clinic and muscled a $500,000 fine against the managing doctors, the state penalized the center just $3,000 for three areas of concern. That's just $1,000 per violation despite the fact each of those "deficiencies" could end up costing lives. And the agency never calculated the number of days the center was deficient in an effort to roll up the fines.
Add to the annual car registration costs a few overdue tickets, an insurance lapse, and an emission repair bill, and you're spending upward of $1,000. And there's no grace period.
It has not been that way at the Bureau of Licensure, where, until the health department and the press exposed its downright dainty approach to potentially deadly problems at the endoscopy center, it has been one amazing grace period. Rules were broken, but it was business as usual.
Obviously, some well-connected, politically active physicians have exercised far greater lobbying power than average automobile drivers. Rules are rules, but some are applied more strictly than others.
It amazes me that so many conservatives think that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime, but don't think that large financial penalties won't deter misconduct among corporations or medical professions. I wonder if this case would have turned out differently had the fines been $10,000 or $100,000 each. It's certainly possible that a kick to the groin would have gotten these doctors' attention in a way that a slap on the wrist certainly didn't.
While the sheer number of people who may have been exposed to Hepatitis (over 50,000) makes this case standout, the pattern behind it is very typical: An industry with lax regulation routinely ignores safety regulations. Small fines don't correct the problem. Someone gets hurt or dies. And then the tort system has to step in to correct a problem that never should have occurred in the first place.
What do you think? Does self-regulation work? And is it fair that the "reform" measures Nevada passed to protect its doctors from frivolous lawsuits will protect these "doctors" as well?