Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

March 30, 2013

Oklahoma: Dental clinic inspections not necessary

TULSA, Okla. — The Oklahoma agency that accused a Tulsa oral surgeon of unsanitary practices, putting thousands of people at risk for hepatitis and HIV, says it’s never needed to inspect medical offices regularly.

“This doesn’t happen,” Susan Rogers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, said Friday. “There’s not been a need for these inspections because we’ve never had a complaint like this.”

That’s not unusual. Some other states don’t routinely inspect clinics, either, noting they don’t have the money and such incidents are so rare that the need just isn’t there.

In Oklahoma, the Board of Dentistry’s small staff does inspections only if the agency receives a complaint. That’s what happened in the case of Dr. W. Scott Harrington, whose practice was inspected after officials determined a patient may have contracted hepatitis C while having dental surgery.

State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley and Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart sent letters Friday to all 7,000 patients they found in Harrington’s 6-year-old records, urging them to be screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS because of unsafe practices at his two clinics. More patients may be at risk, but Harrington’s files go back only to 2007.

“Although we do not know whether you were personally exposed to blood-borne viruses, there is a possibility that you may have been exposed to infectious material,” they wrote, acknowledging their discovery could be “alarming and frightening” for the patients.

Rogers’ office filed a 17-count complaint against Harrington, saying officials found rusty instruments, potentially contaminated drug vials and improper use of a machine designed to sterilize tools.

According to guidelines from the American Dental Association, of which Harrington was listed as a member Friday, to keep their licenses dentists must stay up to date on the latest scientific and clinical developments.

Rogers noted that dentists know they could close their licenses if they violate health codes, so they are motivated to “do the right thing” — clean their instruments, inspect drug cabinets for outdated or expired medicines and require staff to be trained.

Rogers said the Oklahoma board will consider changes in its practices but that it was too early to provide specifics.

In Colorado, where an oral surgeon was accused of reusing needles and syringes, the state doesn’t routinely inspect dental offices. No changes were made to that policy after the 2012 incident.  

“We respond if there is a complaint,” spokesman Mark Salley said in a telephone interview Friday. “I don’t know of any agency in this department that has the resources to conduct routine inspections of private practices.”

California, too, responds only if a problem is reported.

“We are complaint-driven. Inspections are not routine. We’re looking at 30,000-plus dentists in California alone,” said Kim Trefry, the enforcement chief at the Dental Board of California.

Dr. Douglas Dieterich, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, called the Oklahoma case “an anomaly.”

“There’s all sorts of codes. The employees are watching. The patients are watching. With all the news reports of mini-epidemics caused by unsafe practices, I think everybody is” more careful, Dieterich said.

Harrington had been a dentist for 36 years before giving up his license March 20. He faces an April 19 hearing at which he could have his certification revoked.

Lydia Miller, director of communications for the Oklahoma Dental Association, said Harrington was a member of the organization until Thursday, when health officials branded him a “menace to the public health.” Oklahoma has between 2,000 and 2,200 dentists; 1,600 belong to the ODA.

Until Thursday, the state Dentistry Board had had no problem with Harrington. Rogers said the agency, which is funded from license fees that range from $25 for a dental assistant’s annual certificate renewal to $500 for an initial license testing fee, has only a $1 million budget and five employees to monitor dentists serving 3.8 million residents. She said the board concentrates primarily on complaints involving missing drugs and possible sexual misconduct.

Harrington could not be reached for comment Friday. His malpractice lawyer, Jim Secrest II, did not respond to phone messages left Thursday or Friday. A message at Harrington’s Tulsa office said it was closed and an answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there have been only three documents cases of a dental patient contracting either HIV or hepatitis B from a dental procedure: HIV in Florida in 1991 and hepatitis B in New Mexico in 2001 and West Virginia in 2009.

The CDC in 2003 established infection control guidelines for dental offices, including rules about hand hygiene and sterilization of dental instruments, but inspections are left to the states.

According to the Oklahoma Dentistry Board’s complaint, Harrington’s practice had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment, needles were re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use, drug vials were used on multiple patients and the office had no written infection-protection procedure. Also, dental assistants performed some tasks reserved to a licensed dentist, such as administering IV sedation. A device used to sterilize equipment hadn’t undergone required monthly tests in at least six years.

Hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV are typically spread through intravenous drug use or unprotected sex.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP600421099 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Robot_Rich copy.jpg NASA’s Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nepal Everest Avalanc_Rich copy.jpg Another body pulled from snow in avalanche

    Search teams recovered a 13th body Saturday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mount Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results