Is Gibbons smarter than a fifth grader?

LAS VEGAS (AP)—Unsafe medical procedures that spread hepatitis C at a medical clinic in Las Vegas have left many patients at risk. The clinic was found to have reused syringes and vials of medication over a period of nearly four years.

LAS VEGAS (AP)—The medical procedures that spread hepatitis C among patients at a large Las Vegas clinic may be more widespread than first reported, health officials say. As many as 40,000 people may be affected.

CARSON CITY (AP)—Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, who fought a plan for additional medical [inspectors] in 2007, said Monday that more inspections by more state staffers might not have stopped clinic practices that led to a hepatitis outbreak. Gibbons blamed “media buffoonery” for public concern surrounding the scare.
—Recent news items

It’s such a comfort, really, to have a governor who can see through the liberal scientific claptrap and put our fretful minds at rest.

It was Gibbons, you may recall, who challenged health experts’ claims that mercury in the environment interfered with brain development and learning in kids.

Nevada’s chief executive also defused protests over the war with Iraq when it became clear that President Bush’s stated reasons for invading that country were, at best, mistakes. It was too bad, Gibbons said, that the protesters “can’t be used as human shields.” He blamed discontent on “hippies in Birkenstocks"—barely 30 years after hippies vanished from American culture and 20 after Birkenstocks became common suburban footwear.

And now he’s taken on charges that his cuts in the state’s health care system had something to do with the spread of a potentially deadly virus.

The problem, he said, is not that abuses occurred. It’s that the media let the cat out of the bag.

The three paragraphs that start this column appeared, in longer form, in news stories last week. In subsequent accounts, officials painted the dangerous practices as “mistakes” and promised training to eliminate them.

Here’s a little test to see if we should laugh out loud: Find a 12-year-old. If you don’t have one, a 10-year-old will do. Ask him or her this question:

“If you gave a shot to a sick person, would it be OK to use the same needle to give a shot to another person?”

In my small survey—three neighbor kids—I got 100 percent correct answers. Sixth-graders know disease can be transmitted by contaminated equipment, and so do fourth-graders. Double dipping a syringe is not a “mistake” any health-care professional would make.

So what does this suggest? A cynical observer, or one who’s a regular patient in medical labs, or one who just pays attention to trends, might suspect pressure to keep costs down. Defensible, certainly, in a time of exploding medical expense.

But what if the pressure were extreme? What if it were so extreme that employees took short cuts that were usually, but not infallibly, harmless?

What if—note that this is only a question—what if they were ordered to take those short cuts, or so pressured, they were afraid not to?

Well, that would be scary, and possibly dangerous. But since we have government agencies empowered to keep an eye on facilities with the potential to do great harm, we could count on inspectors spotting such obvious violations. They’d blow the whistle, and the media, some of which still recognize a story when it bites them on the butt, would alert citizens. Crisis over.

Unless, somehow, there weren’t enough inspectors to do the job, and when word got out anyway, somebody savaged the watchdogs. Then who knows what could happen?