7,000 patients warned of possible hepatitis, HIV exposure

2013 04 08 15 21 31 831 Dental Instruments 200 20130408222356

Oklahoma health officials are notifying approximately 7,000 patients of a Tulsa oral surgeon about potential exposure to HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. The surgeon was cited as a health "menace" after investigators found rusty instruments and lax sterilization procedures in his office.

The state Board of Dentistry launched an investigation of W. Scott Harrington, DMD, on March 15 after being notified that Tulsa Department of Health officials were looking into a complaint about potential hepatitis C contamination at his practice.

One patient with no known risk factors has tested positive for HIV and hepatitis C after being treated by Dr. Harrington, according to a 17-count complaint by the dental board filed March 26.

The board's complaint called Dr. Harrington a "menace to the public health by reasons of practicing dentistry in an unsafe or unsanitary manner."

Health department and dental board investigators found numerous violations of health and safety laws, including the use of rusty instruments on patients known to have infectious diseases.

"The Centers for Disease Control has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized," the board said.

Investigators said the sloppy handling of needles and drugs used in surgery "cause great risk of cross-contamination," the complaint noted.

The board also accused Dr. Harrington of "gross negligence" for deferring decisions to unlicensed staff, inadequate infection control, and "turning over inventory and maintenance of scheduled and legend drugs to dental assistants." During inspections of his clinic, Dr. Harrington referred to his staff regarding all sterilization and drug procedures in the office, saying, "They take care of that; I don't," according to the board's complaint.

Dental assistants in Dr. Harrington's office admitted administering IV sedation, including determining the amounts and types of medication for patients, the complaint noted. Drug cabinets were unlocked and unattended, and many drug vials contained expired drugs, including one with a 1993 expiration date.

Dr. Harrington, who has practiced in the area for 39 years, surrendered his license on March 20 and is cooperating with investigators, according to health officials. His offices are currently closed, and he could not be reached for comment. His Tulsa attorney, Jim Secrest, did not respond to calls for comment.

The Tulsa health department is opening a free testing clinic on March 30 for patients who were treated at Dr. Harrington's offices in Tulsa or Owasso since 2007 and may have been exposed to blood-borne viruses. A hotline is also being set up, according to the health department.

Last year, a patient tested positive for hepatitis C after being treated by Colorado oral surgeon Stephen Stein, DDS, who allegedly reused needles and syringes. Health officials sent warning letters to 8,000 patients.

In addition, in 2011, Veterans Affairs (VA) officials notified 535 veterans that they could have been exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV by Dwight Pemberton, DDS. Dr. Pemberton allegedly failed to properly sterilize dental instruments between patients. Three veterans subsequently tested positive for hepatitis, but officials have not determined if they contracted the disease at the VA Medical Center in Dayton, OH.