Oklahoma Dentist Patients urged to test for HIV and Hepatitis Exposure

Malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report of a troubling story out of Tulsa, Oklahoma that will force about 7,000 patients to be tested for possible HIV and hepatitis infection from a suburban dentist office. The Oklahoma State Department of Health will offer free testing to those patients in the upcoming months.

All patients who visited W. Scott Harrington’s dental practice in Owasso in the past six years are encouraged to get tested. Health officials and investigators say that Harrington was allowing unauthorized and unlicensed employees perform IV sedation of patients, which is illegal and incredibly dangerous. They also found numerous sterilization issues, cross-contamination issues, and the drug lockers were found unlocked and unattended at the time of the investigation.

There were also no inventory logs for the drug locker, and one of the medications found in it had an expiration date of 1993. Other records showed that, although the office had not received a morphine delivery since 2009, employees continued to inject the drug into patients throughout 2012. The investigation was sparked by reports from the health department detailing a possible hepatitis C infection from Harrington’s practice.

Harrington was known to have a high number of HIV and hepatitis patients – he accepted Medicaid for oral surgery procedures, which meant he was treating lower-income populations who were often transferred to him from ER departments. Investigators found that Harrington was performing these procedures in unsanitary environments, using unsterile, rusted tools.

Even the autoclave itself, the device that sterilizes tools, was not being used properly. Testing to ensure the device was working properly, which is supposed to be performed each month, had not been performed in at least six years. In total, Harrington was cited for 17 violations, including being a menace to public health. He surrendered his dental license on March 20, 2013, along with his permits for anesthesia and medications.

Allowing unlicensed employees to perform IV anesthesia sedation is ardently dangerous, even life-threatening to patients. Even dentists who are adequately trained can induce allergic reactions, cardiovascular problems, respiratory depression, stroke, and brain injury in patients.

For example, in 2010, a six-year-old boy entered a Virginia pediatric dental clinic to get crowns on his teeth. The dentist ordered a general anesthetic, which would put him to sleep for the entire procedure. As soon as his breathing tube was removed after the procedure, the boy suffered abnormal heartbeats, and because the dental team did not properly monitor him, he suffered a cardiac arrest, and was pronounced dead at a nearby medical center.

The boy’s family filed a malpractice lawsuit against the dentist, claiming that the dental team failed to monitor the boy’s heart and respiratory conditions, vital signs, and oxygen saturation levels throughout the entire procedure. The clinic ultimately agreed to a $100,000 settlement.

One similar case in Nova Scotia involved a three year old boy who suffered severe brain damage when under general anesthesia. He was deprived of oxygen for an extended amount of time while the dentist was performing minor surgery. He is now in a semi-vegetative state, unable to communicate, feed, or change himself, and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The boy and his family received nearly $3 million in a settlement with the Dr. Georges L. Dumont Regional Hospital.

The Oklahoma Health Department is currently in the midst of contacting the 7,000 patients seen by Harrington since 2007. According to CNN, most are blindsided by the investigation’s findings, saying that the office appeared to be clean and tidy, and that there were no indications of the unsanitary conditions or lack of licensing.

At least one patient has contracted hepatitis C from Harrington’s office so far, and there are sure to be more as additional patients are tested. If you or a loved one contracted an illness through the negligent practices of a dentist, doctor, or any other healthcare practitioner, you have important legal rights, and may be eligible for compensation through a lawsuit. Malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience advocating for victims of medical and dental malpractice, and will ensure you receive the largest settlement possible.

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