NC oral surgeon gives up license forever due to patient death

By Melissa Busch, associate editor

August 17, 2021 -- A North Carolina oral surgeon has surrendered his license permanently following the death of a patient during a dental procedure, according to an order signed August 16 by the North Carolina State Board of Medical Examiners.

Dr. Mark Austin, of Austin Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery in Leland, agreed to surrender his license in lieu of an administrative hearing before the state board. Austin, who has had a dental license since 2001, signed the order on August 11, acknowledging that the board had enough information to warrant disciplinary action.

A board investigator determined that Austin's actions resulted in the death of a patient identified as H.P. The victim is Dr. Henry Patel, a 53-year-old cardiologist who worked at Cape Fear Heart Associates, according to a story from WECT News 6.

"The [investigative panel] contents that Dr. Austin violated the standard of care, the Dental Practice Act, and the Board's rules and regulations in his treatment of patient H.P. and during patient H.P.'s medical emergency and contends that the asserted violations resulted in the death of patient H.P.," the order states.

On July 30, 2020, Austin administered anesthesia and sedatives to Patel before and during implant placement. Near the end of the procedure, Patel's oxygen saturation and heart rate dropped to "life-threatening" levels, according to the order.

Austin, who has had a permit to administer anesthesia since 2014, attempted ventilation, tried unsuccessfully to intubate the patient, and called 911. Though those initial actions were reported, patient records showed that Patel's oxygen saturation levels were between 60% and 70% for at least 20 minutes before emergency responders arrived. Also, his heart rate dropped to 39 beats per minute and then no longer registered or was not recorded before emergency services arrived.

When the emergency responders arrived, the patient was pulseless, exhibiting transient cessation of breathing, and had no heartbeat. They placed an advanced airway, returned Patel's spontaneous circulation, and rushed him to the hospital. Patel was eventually transferred to the intensive care unit where he was diagnosed with irreversible anoxic brain injury. He died on August 3, the dental examiners wrote.

Prior to the arrival of rescue workers, Austin did not successfully place an advanced airway adjunct, use a cricothyroidotomy to make a surgical airway, take specific actions to improve his slower heart rate, or administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a dental investigator determined.

After Patel's death, investigators made other discoveries at Austin's practice. The oral surgeon prescribed controlled substances to dental practice staff and failed to keep adequate required records for tracking controlled substances, according to the report. Also, he diverted some controlled substances, including the powerful painkiller fentanyl, for his personal use. Additionally, he used these substances with another employee between 2019 and 2020, according to the order.

Austin is a "chronic or persistent user of intoxicants, drugs, or narcotics to the extent that the same impairs his ability to practice dentistry," the order states.

Copyright © 2021

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