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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 29, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 13
The tooth of the matter - Tulsa dentist may have exposed 7,000 patients to HIV, officials say
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The tooth of the matter - Tulsa dentist may have exposed 7,000 patients to HIV, officials say

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Oklahoma health officials have urged the patients of a Tulsa dentist to get hepatitis and HIV tests after shutting down his office. As many as 7,000 people made have been exposed, they said.

State and county health inspectors went to Dr. W. Scott Harrington's practice after a patient with no known risk factors tested positive for both hepatitis C and HIV. They found the dentist's employees using dirty equipment, reusing needles, and administering drugs without a license.

Harrington voluntarily closed his offices and is cooperating with investigators, said Kaitlin Snider, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department. He faces a hearing April 19 and could lose his license.

'This is an unprecedented event,' Susan Rogers, executive director of the state Board of Dentistry, said in an interview. 'To my knowledge, this has never happened before as far as a public notification of a [hepatitis C] case involving a dental office.'

IMPROPER HYGIENE
The Oklahoma Board of Dentistry said its inspectors discovered multiple sterilization infractions at Harrington's offices, including the use of a separate, rusty, set of instruments for patients who were known to carry infectious diseases.

'The CDC has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized,' the board said in a 17-count complaint against the dentist.

According to the complaint, a device used to sterilize instruments wasn't working properly. A test is supposed to be performed monthly and sent to a lab to determine that the equipment is successfully sterilizing instruments, but 'no such test had ever been performed in the six years one dental assistant had been working at the office,' the complaint said.

In addition, the doctor apparently used outdated drugs, with one vial carrying an expiration date of 1993, officials said. The report also noted that a drug cabinet was unlocked and unattended during the day, and that dental assistants, rather than trained specialists, administered IV sedation for procedures.

OLDER RECORDS MISSING
Officials are sending letters to about 7,000 people who are known to have been Harrington's patients, but they admit that information for patients before 2007 is missing. The letters urge the patients to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.

'It's uncertain how long those practices have been in place,' Snider said. 'He's been practicing for 36 years.'

Harrington could not be reached for comment Thursday. A message at his Tulsa office said it was closed and the doctor's answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department. Phone numbers listed for Harrington were disconnected. A message left with Harrington's malpractice attorney in Tulsa, Jim Secrest II, was not immediately returned.

Harrington's practice in Tulsa is in a tony part of town, on a row of some of the city's most upscale medical practices. The white-and-green stucco, two-story dental clinic has the doctor's name in fancy letters on the fa├žade.

Harrington told officials he leaves sterilization and drug procedures to his staff.

'They take care of that, I don't,' he told the health board.

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