Last week, I mentioned a horrific story out of Tulsa. Scott Harrington, a dentist and oral surgeon, stands accused of exposing thousands of patients to hepatitis and HIV due to neglecting basic sanitation and cleaning practices. Among other things, he used rusty instruments, frequently used needles multiple times, failed to test autoclaves used to clean instruments and used drug vials that should have long since been thrown out. The departments of health for Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma have sent notices to 7,000 of his patients alerting them to the danger. However, their records only go back to 2007, and officials are urging everyone who's seen him over the last 34 years to get tested--which translates to tens of thousands of people. I diaried on this here.
The most benign interpretation of this is that Harrington was being grossly negligent in a way a guy with a six-figure income cannot be. But that may no longer be the case according to one of Harrington's former assistants. In an exclusive interview with ABC News, she revealed that Harrington allowed her and others to administer anesthesia after going to a seminar--but didn't tell her that it was illegal.
"My understanding is that after we were properly trained, we could start an IV," said Harrington's former dental assistant, who worked for Harrington in the 1990s and asked to remain anonymous to protect her identity. "A little jug of the sedative drug sits on the side of the chair and he'd be like 'give one,' 'give two,' and you just are giving one cc, two cc's. It's always dictated by him what to give them."The assistant was one of many who went to an anesthesia seminar in Dallas offered by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons on Harrington's dime before administering anesthesia to Harrington's patients. She added that she didn't think Harrington knew it was illegal. But that seems hard to believe. For one thing, Harrington practiced for over 30 years, and it's inconceivable someone that established wouldn't know. Not only that, but if you believe he didn't know that law, you'd have to believe he didn't know about the unsanitary practices in his practice.
When Susan Rogers, president of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, learned about this, she was flabbergasted.
According to the Oklahoma Dental Act, only the dentist can administer intravenous anesthesia. A certified registered nurse can administer it, too, but only under the supervision of a dentist.In Oklahoma, an assistant who gives anesthesia to a patient is practicing dentistry without a license--a felony since 2005, but a misdemeanor at the time the assistant worked there. Rogers added that even if it had been legal for a dental assistant to administer anesthesia, she didn't think the course provided nearly enough training to turn someone loose on patients.
"No one else in a dental office is even allowed to use a needle on the exterior of a patient in a dental office except the dentist," Rogers said. "Dental assistants can't do anything with needles at all."
Harrington will almost certainly lose his license at a dentistry board hearing on April 19, and could potentially face both state and federal charges when all is said and done. The DEA has joined the investigation--most likely because he used morphine on patients as late as 2012 even though he hadn't ordered any since 2009. Needless to say, this latest bombshell won't help him any.