Patients expect professionalism and a certain standard of care when visiting a dental office. This includes cleanliness and safety ranking high on that list of expectations. And generally healthcare facilities work hard to maintain those standards, which is why the alleged behavior of an Oklahoma dentist is so shocking--event to the most hardened medical malpractice lawyer.
The office of the state's dentistry board has filed a 17-count complaint again Dr. W. Scott Harrington, calling him "a menace to public health." The Dentistry Board's complaint alleges Harrington's practice re-inserted needles in drug vials after the first use, used the same vials on multiple patients, and hadn't performed required monthly tests on a device used to sterilize equipment in at least six years. The complaint also claims that dental assistants administered IV sedation, which can only be done by a licensed dentist in Oklahoma. If these allegations are true, this dentists has undoubtedly committed medical malpractice on countless patients.
When a patient of Harrington's tested positive for HIV in a third-party provider's office, the dentist's office was found to be a potential source of the infection. After further testing the patient was found to have hepatitis C, not HIV, but the public alert went out to Dr. Harrington's 7,000 patients, urging them to have their blood screened for viruses. After screening almost half of the patients who underwent oral surgery procedures in one of the dentist's clinics, health officials have found 57 cases of hepatitis C, 3 cases of hepatitis B, and at least three people with HIV.
Dr. Harrington agreed to close his office in Tulsa as well as his nearby clinic and voluntarily gave up his license. If the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry chooses to hold him criminally liable, the dentist and his staff could face felony charges, including practicing dentistry without a license and aiding or abetting a person who is violating the state's dental act. Each charge could lead to a prison term of up to four years and a $10,000 fine. According to his attorney, Harrington has an impeccable record with the state dentistry board. Court records also show that the dentist settled a medical malpractice claim in 1995 and settled a negligence claim out of court in 1997.
Health officials in Oklahoma continue to conduct interviews and conduct blood tests with Dr. Harrington's former patients to determine if the viruses were contracted at the dental offices. It is extremely rare for patients to contract a virus during a dental procedure--there are only three known cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If the reports of rusty instruments and unsanitary conditions can be proved, Dr. Harrington's office may be responsible for increasing those numbers.
Reuters, Dozens of Oklahoma Dentist's Patients Test Positive for Hepatitis, 4-18-13
Huffington Post, W. Scott Harrington, Oklahoma Dentist, May Face Criminal Charges in Possible HIV Exposure to 7,000 Patients, 4-1-13