A longtime dentist and oral surgeon in Tulsa is in a world of trouble. W. Scott Harrington, who practiced in Tulsa for 36 years, was forced to shut down his practice amid allegations that his unsanitary practices exposed thousands of patients to hepatitis and HIV. I mentioned this yesterday, but given the circumstances I thought I'd repost for the benefit of anyone who's been to this guy.
An investigation into Harrington's practice found numerous violations of health and safety laws and major violations of the State Dental Act, the department said. Dental Board investigators have been assisted by agents from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration concerning the maintenance, control and use of drugs on the premises, according to the board.Harrington surrendered his dental license on March 20, and is cooperating with the investigation--as if he has a choice, given the circumstances. He operated two practices in the Tulsa area--one in Tulsa itself, and another in the suburb of Owasso. The Oklahoma Health Department is planning to send out letters to 7,000 of Harrington's now-former patients notifying them of the situation. However, patient information only goes back as far as 2007, so they're urging anyone who's seen Harrington over the years to get tested. By my math, that works out to tens of thousands of people.
Harrington is facing 17 allegations from the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry due to health and safety violations levied against his practice. Charges include: a patient testing positive for HIV and Hepatitis C; the dental practice being unsafe, unsanitary and lacking of sterilization checks; committing gross negligence related to decisions related to the dental health care of patients; practicing dentistry without proper display of licenses and certifications; violation of provisions of the State Dental Act by failure to keep a suitable record of dangerous drugs; unlawful practices in authorizing dental assistants to practice dentistry; and having open vials or medication and unsanitary dental materials in an unclean environment.
The situation came to light earlier this year, when one of Harrington's patients tested positive for hepatitis C and HIV. State health officials got suspicious when they discovered the patient had no known risk factors. After they learned the patient had dental surgery during the exposure window, they paid two visits to his office in mid-March.
What they found was absolutely horrifying. Apparently Harrington frequently used rusted instruments, even though the CDC has found rusted instruments can't be properly sterilized. A device used to sterilize instruments hadn't been tested since 2008 even though state regulations require monthly tests. Needles were frequently reinserted in drug vials after use, and there was no standard procedure for cleaning or infection protection. Inspectors also found a drug vial that had expired in 1993 (!) and that morphine had been used at least once last year even though Harrington hadn't received any morphine shipments since 2009. Additionally, Harrington frequently allowed his assistants to perform tasks that only licensed dentists are allowed to perform, such as IV sedation. In what can charitably be described as an understatement, the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry branded Harrington "a menace to the public health."
The Tulsa Health Department is offering free testing on Saturday and Monday at the North Regional Health and Wellness Center. It's also set up a free hotline that will be staffed from 7 am to 7 pm--especially for those who have seen Harrington since 2007. That number is 918-595-4500. Additionally, according to several people who commented on the first story I linked up--from KOTV in Tulsa--the Oklahoma Health Department is offering free tests to any of Harrington's former patients starting on Monday.
Harrington reportedly told the board that he left sterilization and cleaning to his employees. "They take care of that, I don't," he said. Wonder if he'll be brave enough to say that when he goes before the board for a formal hearing on April 19. I also wonder if he'll be brave enough to say that to a judge, since to me it's only a question of when, not if, criminal charges are going to be handed up.