Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2013 03 Harrington Small

Tulsa dental patients screened after investigation of dentist

March 28, 2013
Tulsa dental patients screened after health department investigation of local dentist.

State and local health departments quickly initiated screenings of approximately 7,000 dental patients in Tulsa, Okla., after “numerous violations of health and safety laws."

The Tulsa Health Department and the Oklahoma State Department of Health began notifying approximately 7,000 patients of practices operated by Dr. W. Scott Harrington in Tulsa and the suburb of Owasso. The 7,000 patients apparently were from records obtained for patients within last seven years, indicating uncertainty about patients of record prior to seven years ago.

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The health departments expressed concern that the patients had potentially been exposed to bloodborne viruses while undergoing treatment at the Tulsa oral surgeon. The health departments conducted its investigation in conjunction with the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry. Investigators said procedures could have “exposed patients to infectious material,” according to the Tulsa Health Department.

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The health department’s statement said, “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.”

The city's newspaper, the Tulsa World, reported that the violations involved:

• incomplete drug logs and a disorganized and unlocked drug cabinet that contained expired medication, including a vial that expired in 1993, according to a statement of complaint from the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry.

• Equipment was rusted and not properly sterilized. The article said Dr. Harrington was "deferring decisions and supervision of cleaning and infection control to assistants, according to the complaint."

• The doctor also practiced without displaying his license and failed to keep a suitable record of dangerous drugs.

An official with the state health department told Tulsa media, ""It was just one violation after another, after another, after another."

The investigators said the "problem was identified on March 12, 2013" during an onsite investigation.

The health department added, "At this time, we do not know if any patients were infected due to exposures at the dental surgical clinic. We hope that our investigation will determine if the improper practices led to infection of some dental patients. Right now, we just want to inform persons that may have been at risk of exposure and provide testng, so they know their infection status."

The health department initiated the screenings after noting a high volume of Medicaid patients at the practice, including patients with infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. Investigators initially investigated the infection of a low-risk Tulsa resident to treatment at the dental office.

Dr. Harrington “voluntarily discontinued practicing” when the investigation started, and was reported to be cooperating with the investigators.

Tulsa patients were referred to the health department to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.