Updated at 4:30 pm, Tuesday, August 23, 2016
The Dental Hygiene Committee of California (DHCC) withdrew the state’s approval for the dental hygiene program at Concorde Career College–Garden Grove campus in California after lapses infection control surfaced during an investigation.
The decision was announced during a DHCC committee meeting in Sacramento on Aug. 20. The DHCC is the governing board for dental hygiene in California.
The hearing hosted by the DHCC education subcommittee heard testimony from two subject experts and a DHCC investigator. The reports referred to failures in infection control procedures, focusing on a gap in spore testing and failed spore tests for the dental hygiene clinic’s sterilizers.
Between April 8 and July 13, spore tests were not conducted in the clinic, and no faculty could identified as overseeing the sterilization procedures. When testing did resume, the first test failed and Concorde Career College (CCC) was notified on July 15.
Valerie Morrow, corporate communications manager at Concorde Career Colleges, said on Aug. 23, "Spore testing of the machines at the facility resumed on July 8, not July 13. Both of our machines passed the July 8th test."
The DHCC replied, "The testing results that Concorde Career College – Garden Grove campus provided at the meeting were inconclusive, as the July 8 testing was done on unknown sterilizers, as the serial numbers were not indicated in the document submitted by them to identify which machines were tested. As such, the results for July 8 could not be considered as the start of the resumption of spore testing."
The testimony at the hearing also indicated that, although a seal was replaced on one sterilizer after the failed test, no instruments were pulled, and no consumers were notified of the failed tests. An estimated 3,400 to 4,000 patient visits occurred at the clinic during the time period of the lapse in spore testing.
Morrow said college's records indicated that 407 patients were treated between April 8 and July 8.
The DHCC was asked to clarify the dramatic difference in the numbers reported. The dental hygiene state board said the number reported at the hearing was "a possible estimate only."
The DHCC informed both the county and state health department of the issues.
Nick Ewell, the campus president for CCC-Garden Grove campus was present and gave information on the spore testing timeline, but his information was not admissible because it was not presented 10 days prior to the hearing. The attorney for the school stated he was only notified of the hearing four days prior, although the information was requested from the school on June 28.
Morrow said, "We appreciate that the committee is doing their best to maneuver the new process to ensure that DHCC standards are upheld. We are looking forward to the opportunity to meet with the executive director and further define our position, as we wait to hear back from the committee on clarification of items as a result of Saturday’s decision."
The investigation into the campus was initiated after student and faculty complaints to the DHCC. Students reportedly cited a lack of education on infection control, with senior students stating there was no mention of spore testing in their curriculum. Students also reported blood left on instruments after sterilization and debris still remaining even after the first inspection and requirements for improvement from the investigator.
The withdrawal of approval was effective immediately. Concorde Career Colleges can appeal the DHCC decision. Afterwards, CCC indicated that it would institute an appeal with the DHCC executive director once official documentation was received.
"During this time, we will continue to work at full capacity training our students and serving the local communities at Concorde – Garden Grove," Morrow said.
The vote to withdraw approval for Concorde Career College–Garden Grove was unanimous. DHCC President Noel Kelsch, RDHAP, MS said in her closing statement, “The number one concern for this board is to protect the consumer and assure the delivery of quality dental hygiene care.”
Concorde can request an informal hearing with the DHCC executive officer and if not satisfied with the results the school can ask for a formal appeal hearing with an administrative judge.
The president and immediate past president of the California Dental Hygienists’ Association attended the DHCC hearing and offered support for the students. Students at Concorde are members of the professional association. In the past, CDHA has helped students find placement in other programs to finish their education and that type of help could be offered again for those affected by the decision to withdraw approval for the Concorde campus.
Concorde Career Colleges has 16 campuses across the United States with four campuses and 3 dental hygiene programs in California. The Garden Grove campus was established in 1964 and operated under a different name until incorporated by Concorde in 1989.
The tuition and fees for the Concorde dental hygiene program is more than $58,000, according to its website. The website’s statistics state 41 of the 48 dental hygiene students graduated from the Garden Grove campus in 2014 and 61% were employed in dental hygiene. The dental hygiene program clearly boasts on its website, “Achieve a new career in as few as 17 months.”