|Updated: 3/29/2013 2:56 pm
||Published: 3/21/2013 4:57 pm
The Tulsa Health Department, the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma State Board of Dentistry are investigating Dr. W. Scott Harrington on allegations he exposed patients to Hep C and HIV.
The investigation was first announced last week, but details were not released until Thursday. Officials say Harrington is being investigated for possibly exposing 7,000 patients to HIV and Hepatitis C. The investigation revealed practices that could have exposed patients to infectious material.
Susan Rogers, executive director of the board of dentistry, says "This one is above and beyond anything we've seen in Oklahoma, or anywhere else in the United States.
She says the Centers for Disease Control have never confirmed a case like this, allegations of infectious diseases spread by a dental surgeon.
"This is a different circumstance because of the type of dentistry he did, it was oral surgery. It's invasive every day, you have blood in that office every single day."
According to the State Board of Dentistry, the investigation of the practice of W. Scott Harrington, D.M.D. so far has found numerous violations of health and safety laws and major violations of the State Dental Act. Dental Board investigators have been assisted by agents from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration concerning the maintenance, control and use of drugs on the premises.
Investigators allege one drug vial found in the medicine cabinet just days ago expired in 1993. Records showed morphine had been used on patients intermittently throughout 2012, but according to DEA records, Harrington hadn't received the drug in over three years.
"When we were there, his answers were 'I don't take care of that, talk to my assistants,'" Rogers said. "which is gross negligence to us."
Investigators say his assistants used two sets of instruments, one for known infectious disease carriers and one for others, and some of the instruments had "reddish brown spots" from rust.
Investigators also found the machine for sterilizing dental tools wasn't being use properly, and that a monthly test required to ensure the machine is working as it should hadn't been done in over six years. Findings also included Harrington had no written "infection prevention policies or procedures" for this staff to follow, and he had no DEA permit to use medications at his satellite office in Owasso.
The findings prompted an emergency hearing by the board of dentistry, only the fifth in about 20 years.
The dentist and dental office voluntarily discontinued practicing upon the beginning of the investigation. The dentist is cooperating with investigators through his attorney. The State Board of Dentistry has been working very closely with the State Health Department on this investigation. The investigation is multifaceted and ongoing.
Rogers says her board is accountable.
"That's our duty," she began. "to pull his license right then upon an investigation of a complaint."
FOX23's Janai Norman asked whether Rogers felt she now had a duty to make changes to prevent this from happening again.
"That is up to my board, but I know we are having active discussions about it, yes."
Right now, Rogers say dentists file to renew their licenses each year, and upon answering four pages worth of questions, if nothing suspicious comes up, the state grants that renewal without any inspections.
Representative David Derby, chair of the Oklahoma House Public Health Committee, says that lack of oversight cannot continue.
"I think we need to have a little it more oversight on these particular issues, especially dealing with autoclaving and how you sterilize your equipment."
Derby says he plans to work with health officials to fix some of these oversight issues this year, including getting health investigators more funds to get more boots on the ground to help with inspections.
Patients who had procedures at Dr. W. Scott Harrington's dental practice, located at 2111 S. Atlanta Place in Tulsa or at 12806 E. 86th Place N. in Owasso, Oklahoma will begin to receive letters in the mail. The notification includes patients who have visited Dr. Harrington since 2007 and recommends they be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
Hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV are serious medical conditions and infected patients may not have outward symptoms of the disease for many years. As a precaution, and in order to take appropriate steps to protect their health, it is important for these patients to get tested. It should be noted that transmission in this type of occupational setting is rare.
All testing will be done free of charge at the Tulsa Health Department's North Regional Health and Wellness Center located at 5635 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Services will be provided on a walk-in basis starting on Saturday, March 30 from 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. and will resume on Monday, April 1 from 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. In addition, the health department has set up a hotline at (918) 595-4500 for people with questions about this notification or hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV.
Patient information was only available from the past seven years; therefore, patients who were seen by Dr. Harrington prior to 2007 may not receive a letter. Anyone with additional questions may call the hotline.
The Tulsa Health Department will continue to provide updated information on their website at www.tulsa-health.org.