Oral surgeon loses license to settle heart infection claims

2018 08 30 18 07 7208 Settlement 400

A New Jersey oral surgeon has agreed to a five-year license suspension to resolve allegations that lax infection-control practices at his office led to 15 patients contracting the bacterial heart infection endocarditis, including one who subsequently died.

John Vecchione, DDS, also agreed to pay $293,500 in penalties and costs to resolve allegations that his continued failure to follow infection-control protocols exposed his patients to the risk of contracting endocarditis, according to a release issued February 3 by New Jersey's Office of the Attorney General.

"This settlement brings closure to a troubling case in which a medical professional allegedly took irresponsible risks with patients' health by disregarding health and safety standards," said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in the statement.

Dr. Vecchione was suspended temporarily from practicing in August 2016 after allegations surfaced that his office failed to maintain sanitary conditions even after the New Jersey Department of Health associated "breaches of infection prevention practices" at his office with 15 cases of bacterial endocarditis by patients he treated between 2012 and 2014.

One patient eventually died, and 12 others needed heart surgery. His practice in Budd Lake is listed as permanently closed, according to the release.

Vecchione was accused of engaging in professional misconduct and gross negligence that endangered patient lives in repeated breaches of infection-control practices set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and federal regulatory agencies.

Some of the alleged breaches by Dr. Vecchione included the following:

  • Failing to use sterile water or sterile saline during surgical procedures
  • Improper handling and storage of single dose medication vials
  • Nonsterile preparation of instruments
  • Improper handling and disposal of needles and syringes

Time to settle

Dr. Vecchione had been fighting the allegations and was prepared to take the stand in his own defense in January, when he decided he wanted to settle. He agreed to the case under terms outlined in a final consent order approved on January 22 by the New Jersey Board of Dentistry.

Four years of Dr. Vecchione's license suspension will be served as an active period of suspension, with the remaining year being served as a period of probation, which will be supervised closely by a board-approved dentist. The active suspension is retroactive to August 31, 2016, which is when the oral surgeon's temporary suspension began, according to the consent order.

As early as August 31, 2020, Dr. Vecchione can begin his one-year probationary period as long as he complied with all terms outlined in the consent order.

Dr. Vecchione must successfully complete the dental board's approved courses in office management, recordkeeping, and infection-control practices, procedures, implementation, and maintenance, as well as an ethics course.

"Dr. Vecchione spent years denying any responsibility for the infections contracted by patients in his care," said Howard Pine, the acting director of New Jersey's Division of Consumer Affairs. “We are pleased that he has agreed to accept the terms of this final consent order, which not only hold Dr. Vecchione responsible for his repeated violations of infection-control regulations but put in place controls and procedures to protect patients should he ever seek to reinstate his license and resume practicing dentistry in this state."

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