Oklahoma: Dental clinic inspections not necessary
TULSA, Okla. — The Oklahoma agency that accused a Tulsa oral surgeon of unsanitary practices, putting thousands of people at risk for hepatitis and HIV, says it has never needed to inspect medical offices regularly.
“This doesn't happen,” Susan Rogers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, said on Friday. “There's not been a need for these inspections because we've never had a complaint like this.”
That's not unusual. Some other states don't routinely inspect clinics, either, noting they don't have the money and such incidents are so rare that the need just is not there.
In Oklahoma, the Board of Dentistry's small staff conducts inspections only if the agency receives a complaint.
That's what happened in the case of Dr. W. Scott Harrington, whose practice was inspected when officials determined a patient may have contracted hepatitis C while having dental surgery.
State epidemiologist Kristy Bradley and Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart sent letters on Friday to all 7,000 patients they found in six years of Harrington's records, urging them to be screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS because of unsafe practices in his two clinics. More patients may be at risk, but Harrington's files go back only to 2007.
In the letter, they acknowledged their discovery could be “alarming and frightening” for the patients.
Rogers' office filed a 17-count complaint against Harrington, saying officials found rusty instruments, potentially contaminated drug vials and improper use of a machine to sterilize tools.
According to guidelines from the American Dental Association, of which Harrington was listed as a member on Friday, to keep their licenses dentists must stay up to date on the latest scientific and clinical developments.
Rogers noted that dentists know they could lose their licenses if they violate health codes, so they are motivated to “do the right thing” — including clean their instruments and require staff to be trained.
Rogers said the Oklahoma board will consider changes in its practices but that it was too early to provide specifics.
In Colorado, where an oral surgeon was accused of reusing needles and syringes, the state does not routinely inspect dental offices. No changes were made to that policy after the 2012 incident.
“We respond if there is a complaint,” spokesman Mark Salley said on Friday. “I don't know of any agency in this department that has the resources to conduct routine inspections of private practices.”
California, too, responds only if a problem is reported.
“We are complaint-driven. Inspections are not routine. We're looking at 30,000-plus dentists in California alone,” said Kim Trefry, the enforcement chief at the Dental Board of California.
Dr. Douglas Dieterich, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, called the Oklahoma case “an anomaly.”
“There's all sorts of codes. The employees are watching. The patients are watching. With all the news reports of mini-epidemics caused by unsafe practices, I think everybody is” more careful, Dieterich said.
Harrington had been a dentist for 36 years before giving up his license March 20. Until Thursday, the state Dentistry Board had had no problem with Harrington, who could not be reached for comment.
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