TULSA, OKLA.: Hundreds of patients of an Oklahoma oral surgeon who stands accused of unsanitary practices showed up at a health clinic Saturday, looking to find out whether they were exposed to hepatitis or the virus that causes AIDS.
Letters began going out Friday to 7,000 patients who had seen Dr. W. Scott Harrington during the past six years, warning them that poor hygiene at his clinics created a public health hazard. The one-page letter said how and where to seek treatment but couldn’t explain why Harrington’s allegedly unsafe practices went on for so long.
Testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS began at 10 a.m. Saturday, but many arrived early and stood through torrential downpours. The Tulsa Health Department said 420 people were tested Saturday at its North Regional Health and Wellness Center. Screenings resume Monday morning.
Kari Childress, 38, showed up at 8:30 a.m., mainly because she was nervous.
“I just hope I don’t have anything,” said Childress, who had a tooth extracted at one of Harrington’s two clinics five months ago. “You trust and believe in doctors to follow the rules, and that’s the scariest part.”
Inspectors found a number of problems at the doctor’s clinics in Tulsa and suburban Owasso, according to the state Dentistry Board, which filed a 17-count complaint against Harrington pending an April 19 license revocation hearing. According to the complaint, needles were reinserted into drug vials after being used on patients, expired drugs were found in a medicine cabinet and dental assistants, not the doctor, administered sedatives to patients.
One patient, Orville Marshall, said he didn’t meet Harrington until after he had two wisdom teeth pulled about five years ago at the Owasso clinic. A nurse inserted the IV for his anesthesia; Harrington was there when Marshall came to.
“It’s just really scary. It makes you doubt the whole system, especially with how good his place looked,” said Marshall, 37.
An instrument set reserved for use on patients with infectious diseases was rusty, preventing its effective sterilization, and the office autoclave — a pressurized cleaner — was used improperly and hadn’t been certified as effective in at least six years, according to the complaint.
Dr. Matt Messina, a Cleveland dentist and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association, said creating a safe and hygienic environment is “one of the fundamental requirements” before any dental procedure can be performed.
“It’s not hard. It just takes effort,” he said.
Weekly autoclave testing can be performed for less than $400 annually, according to the website of the Autoclave Testing Services of Pearl River, New York.