Dentist was 'menace'

The crisp, stucco exterior of an Oklahoma dental clinic concealed what health inspectors found inside — rusty instruments used on patients with infectious diseases and a pattern of unsanitary practices that put thousands of people at risk for hepatitis and the virus that causes AIDS.
Associated Press
Mar 29, 2013

 

TULSA, Okla. 

State and local health officials planned to mail notices Friday urging Dr. W. Scott Harrington's 7,000 patients to seek medical screenings for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Inspectors allege workers at his two clinics used dirty equipment and risked cross-contamination to the point that the state Dentistry Board branded Harrington a "menace to the public health."

"The office looked clean," said Joyce Baylor, who had a tooth pulled at Harrington's Tulsa office 1½ years ago. In an interview, Baylor, 69, said she plans to submit for medical tests next week to determine whether she picked up an underlying infection at the clinic.

"I'm sure he's not suffering financially that he can't afford instruments," Baylor said.

Health officials opened their investigation after a patient with no known risk factors tested positive for both hepatitis C and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. After determining the "index patient" had had a dental procedure done about the likely time of exposure, investigators visited Harrington's office and found a number of unsafe practices, state epidemiologist Kristy Bailey said.

"I want to stress that this is not an outbreak. The investigation is still very much in its early stages," Bailey said.

Harrington voluntarily gave up his license, closed his offices in Tulsa and suburban Owasso, and is cooperating with investigators, said Kaitlin Snider, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department. He faces a hearing April 19, when his license could be permanently revoked.

"It's uncertain how long those practices have been in place," Snider said. "He's been practicing for 36 years."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is consulting on the case, and agency spokeswoman Abbigail Tumpey said such situations involving dental clinics are rare. Last year a Colorado oral surgeon was accused of reusing needles and syringes, prompting letters to 8,000 patients, Tumpey said. It wasn't clear whether anyone was actually infected.

"We've only had a handful of dental facilities where we've had notifications in the last decade," Tumpey said.

The Oklahoma Dentistry Board lodged a 17-count complaint against Harrington, saying he was a "menace to the public health by reasons of practicing dentistry in an unsafe or unsanitary manner." Among the claims was one detailing the use of rusty instruments in patients known to have infectious diseases.

"The CDC has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized," the board said.

Health officials are sending letters to 7,000 known patients but cautioned that they don't know who visited his clinics before 2007. The letters urge the patients to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV — viruses typically spread through intravenous drug use or unprotected sex, not occupational settings.

Harrington could not be reached for comment Thursday. A message at his Tulsa office said it was closed, and the doctor's answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department. Phone numbers listed for Harrington were disconnected. A message left with Harrington's malpractice attorney in Tulsa, Jim Secrest II, was not immediately returned.

Harrington's Tulsa practice is in a thriving part of town, on a row of some of medical practices. The white-and-green stucco, two-story dental clinic has the doctor's name in letters on the facade.

According to the complaint, the clinic had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment, needles were re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use and the office had no written infection-protection procedure.

Harrington told officials he left questions about sterilization and drug procedures to his employees.

"They take care of that, I don't," the dentistry board quoted him as saying.

The doctor also is accused of letting his assistants perform tasks only a licensed dentist should have done, including administering IV sedation. Also, the complaint says that the doctor's staff could not produce permits for the assistants when asked.

Susan Rogers, the executive director of the state Dentistry Board, said that, as an oral surgeon, Harrington regularly did invasive procedures involving "pulling teeth, open wounds, open blood vessels." The board's complaint also noted that Harrington and his staff told investigators a "high population of known infectious disease carrier patients" received dental care from him.

Despite the high-risk clientele, a device used to sterilize instruments wasn't being properly used and hadn't been tested in six years, the board complaint said. Tests are required monthly.

Also, a drug vial found at a clinic this year had an expiration date of 1993 and a drug log kept by one assistant said morphine had been used in the clinic last year despite its not receiving any morphine shipments since 2009.

Officials said patients will be offered free medical testing at the Tulsa Health Department's North Regional Health and Wellness Center.

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Associated Press reporter Jeannie Nuss in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

Comments

Pterocarya frax...

Please don't punish this dentist. He is a "job creator".

Darkhorse

Does the Health Department make routine inspections on the dentist offices? The dentist offices should be inspected right along with the restaurants. Are there any oversight inspections in Ohio? Who is looking out for us?

Pterocarya frax...

So you always want to pi** and moan about taxes, and government, but you still want to be looked out for???

KnuckleDragger

^troll

The Bizness

You call him a troll for stating a point many people agree with? People want the services of government but don't want to pay for it.

Pterocarya frax...

If the definition of a troll is one who points out the hypocrisy of conservatives, then I will wear the badge with honor.

arnmcrmn

Yes dental offices are inspected and yes the dental office gets the bill for the inspection.

deertracker

Why is anyone surprised?

Tootsiemomma

nothing surprises me anymore !! everyones out to make the big buck at the expense of everyone else. these offices should be inspected just like restaurants. when it comes to peoples health, there should be stricter guide lines,

arnmcrmn

yes there are inspections that can happen at any given time. yes these inspections are strict, and yes the dental office gets the bill for the inspection.

Dorey

The Ohio State Dental Board does, in fact, inspect all dental offices in the state of Ohio. They conduct surprise inspections throughout the year, and are very strict with their requirements and laws pertaining to the Ohio Dental Practice Act. It's not impossible that an unethical practitioner could get away with this in Ohio, but it would be very difficult to hide it from the dental board.

Darkhorse

Thank you Dorey for the information and putting us at ease. Can a person access the inspection results on line to check up on a dentist or maybe looking for a dentist just like the do the nursing home inspections? It is a health issue that everyone should have access to the inspection reports.

Dorey

The Ohio State Dental Board has a very informative website that should answer any questions you may have. Just google it, because the spam filter won't allow me to post the link.

happyfeet64

Approx. 7-8 months ago, a lab assist. who traveled and contracted with numerous hospitals in multiple states was found to have been stealing syringes of pain medications and reusing them on patients. He was positive for Hep. C. It was discovered that quite a number of patients tested Hep.C+. Which is a shame because unlike AIDS, a diagnosis of Hep. C is virtually a death sentence. In this country alone, the CDC has estimated that in the next 10 years more people will die from Hep. than ALL the AIDS cases combined. And they also recommend testing for all baby boomers for Hep.C. There are currently drug therapies to treat Hep. and every treatment carries horrible short term and long term side effects. There is one company who, in clinical trials, was able to "cure" the virus but refuse to pursue it further because of profits. Sorry, I have alot of friends and family that are facing this everyday and it seems that since it's not "politically correct disease" then noone cares.

Katelih-Trailer...

Dont be sorry. Its a great post. I wish you and yours well.

KURTje

Agreed happytootsies. Another 1 - Dr. Gero Hutter. There is a documented cure. Godda wonder here.