These are things people expect to be cured or prevented when seeking health care, but they can be inflicted when receiving medical help from someone who isn’t properly licensed.
That was the message being sent Monday morning by a collaborative of professionals from various entities as an advertising campaign and hotline were unveiled to warn the community — particularly the Hispanic community — about the dangers of unlicensed physicians. Spearheaded by the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, this public awareness campaign is called “Say No to Unlicensed Physicians,” or “¡No a los Médicos Clandestinos!” in Spanish.
“Unlicensed physicians are dangerous and illegal,” Frankie Sue Delpapa, former state attorney general and now a consultant for the task force studying the issue in Nevada, told reporters gathered Monday morning at the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy Office on Plumb Lane.
The issue has been in local and national consciousness in the past year with several publicized cases in Nevada and elsewhere. A local case still under investigation involves a man posing as a dentist and performing procedures in people’s homes. Raul Rodriguez, a 56-year-old man from Reno, was arrested in March for allegedly practicing without a license when one of his patients ended up in the hospital due to an airway blockage after receiving improper dental care, according to a Fox Reno news report. According to the Associated Press, Rodriguez claimed he was a dental assistant in another country.
Delpapa said Florida also has seen a rash of these unlicensed physician cases and Nevada is looking for ways to better handle this problem in its large and growing Hispanic population. Emma Sepulveda, director of UNR’s Latino Research Center, said Hispanics are driven to seek services of unlicensed physicians by a lack of insurance, a need for low-cost care and a cultural heritage in which alternative medicine is accepted.
Many Hispanics who are victimized in these cases work several part-time jobs and do not quality for insurance, Sepulveda said, and even if they qualify they can’t afford the coverage. Also, she said, many people come from a background where it is common for a doctor to visit them in their home and treat them in their own bed using alternative remedies or procedures.
“If it sounds too good to be true it’s because it probably isn’t good enough,” Sepulveda said. “If they will remove your appendix in the garage, they’re probably not a doctor.”
Information is a large component of this campaign, funded by a $41,000 grant from the attorney general’s office plus about $12,000 in other public outreach funds. In addition to posters, brochures and commercials, the effort includes a new “Community Health Resource List,” which is a a comprehensive list of health-related resources across the state. Another list, the “Master Latino List,” comprises all individuals and organizations in Nevada that are active and involved in Latino-related issues, many of whom have agreed to support the effort by distributing information. Pharmacies statewide also are expected to participate by putting up posters.
“Part of the problem stems from lack of awareness about alternatives,” said Drew Bradley, the outreach coordinator for the Latino Research Center.
To curb the activity of unlicensed physicians, residents now can call Nevada 2-1-1 to make a report. People also can text their five-digit ZIP code to “898211.” They will then receive an automatic reply. Nevada 2-1-1 staff responds after the automatic response has been sent. The dialog then becomes a live back-and-forth conversation, similar to instant messaging.
Convincing Hispanics to report this activity is difficult, Delpapa said, because of fear of government and of possible deportation. Many Hispanics don’t like to discuss legal issues, she said, and the language barrier also deters many from filing reports.
Creating a streamlined system to handle these reports is one of the issues being discussed by the ad hoc Task Force on Unlicensed Health Care in Nevada, which has met twice and will have its final meeting on April 24. The task force includes members of the state attorney general’s office, Mexican consulate and an ombudsman for minorities from the Nevada Department of Business and Industry. This task force will issue a report in June making recommendations to the Legislature for possible state laws and procedures to handle the issue.
The issue also will be discussed today in Carson City at a meeting of the Legislative Committee on Health Care.
For more information about the campaign, visit www.unr.edu/latinocenter/medicosclandestinos/index.html.