TULSA — The crisp, stucco exterior of an Oklahoma dental clinic concealed what health inspectors say they found inside: rusty instruments used on patients with infectious diseases and a pattern of unsanitary practices that put thousands of people at risk for hepatitis and the virus that causes AIDS.
State and local health officials planned to mail notices Friday urging 7,000 patients of Dr. W. Scott Harrington to seek medical screenings for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Inspectors allege workers at his two clinics used dirty equipment and risked cross-contamination to the point that the state Dentistry Board branded Harrington a “menace to the public health.”
“The office looked clean,” said Joyce Baylor, who had a tooth pulled at Harrington’s Tulsa office 1 1/2 years ago. In an interview, Baylor, 69, said she’ll be tested next week to determine whether she contracted any infection.
“I’m sure he’s not suffering financially that he can’t afford instruments,” Baylor said of Harrington.
Health officials opened their investigation after a patient with no known risk factors tested positive for both hepatitis C and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. After determining the “index patient” had a dental procedure about the likely time of exposure, investigators visited Harrington’s office and found a number of unsafe practices, state epidemiologist Kristy Bailey said.
“I want to stress that this is not an outbreak. The investigation is still very much in its early stages,” Bailey said.
Harrington voluntarily gave up his license, closed his offices in Tulsa and suburban Owasso, and is cooperating with investigators, said Kaitlin Snider, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department. He faces a hearing April 19, when his license could be permanently revoked.
“It’s uncertain how long those practices have been in place,” Snider said. “He’s been practicing for 36 years.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is consulting on the case, and agency spokeswoman Abbigail Tumpey said such situations involving dental clinics are rare. Last year a Colorado oral surgeon was accused of reusing needles and syringes, prompting letters to 8,000 patients, Tumpey said. It wasn’t clear whether anyone was actually infected.