Dec 09, 2016 by Rachel Christiansen
Nevada Public Radio | KNPR | NPR Member Station

NYE Medical Center
Photo by Christopher Smith/Desert Companion

When the Nye Regional Medical Center closed in 2015, it sent shockwaves through the town of Tonopah, Nev. 

The community of about 2,500 residents would from then on have to drive at least 100 miles for checkups in either Hawthorne, Nevada, or Bishop California, and even farther to Las Vegas or Reno for emergencies. 

Private air ambulance companies tried to help where they could, but there always remained a lack of funding. 

So why did the hospital close to begin with? 

In a two-part investigative series, the Dallas Morning News unveiled a pattern of mismanagement and fraud centered around one doctor – who still is licensed to practice in the state. 

“Hospitals are really the perfect vehicle for those who are unscrupulous,” said Miles Moffeit, the investigative reporter who spent two years uncovering the story of Vincent Scoccia. “No one expects the hospitals to be engaged in wrongdoing, yet there’s so many ways things can go wrong.” 

Scoccia, who applied for the hospital license in 2000, was approved by the state four days later, despite a background already wrought with problems. 

“He created all these outside corporations, we counted six or seven … they were essentially shell corporations that he could pour money into,” Moffeit said. 

Over the span of about 12 years, Moffeit uncovered roughly $8 million dollars that was transferred from Nye County Regional Medical Center into Scoccia’s companies. 

Meanwhile, the situation inside the hospital was going downhill quickly. 

“It was more than dire,” said Jerry Seelig, who was appointed by a judge as the temporary hospital administrator after Scoccia filed for bankruptcy in 2013. 

It [the money] was never used to pay for salaries, equipment or resources to have a quality emergency room, clinic or hospital,” Seelig said. 

Seelig said basic ER resources were not available, such as thermometers or CBC panels. 

Paul Shubert, the Bureau Chief of Nevada’s Health Care Quality and Compliance department, said the state did everything it could – but that its primary responsibility is patient care and not the fiscal management of a facility. 

“When we looked at the applicant, there wasn’t anything that said he would do things that would prevent him from becoming licensed,” Shubert said. 

Moffeit said the gaming commission has more muscle when it comes to licensing. 

“I wish we had the resources to do those types of investigations,” Shubert said. 

Scoccia is still licensed to practice in several states, and operates a health clinic in Kerrville, Texas. 

Guests: Miles Moffeit, reporter, Dallas Morning News; Jerry Seelig, CEO of Seelig and Cussigh; Paul Schubert, the Chief for the Bureau of Health Care Quality and Compliance at the Division of Public and Behavioral Health