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March 29, 2013

Tulsa dentist’s clinic put thousands of patients at risk of infection, called a ‘menace’ to public health

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TULSA —

“We’ve only had a handful of dental facilities where we’ve had notifications in the last decade,” Tumpey said.

The Oklahoma Dentistry Board lodged a 17-count complaint against Harrington, saying he was a “menace to the public health by reasons of practicing dentistry in an unsafe or unsanitary manner.” Among the claims was one detailing the use of rusty instruments in patients known to have infectious diseases.

“The CDC has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized,” the board said.

Health officials are sending letters to 7,000 known patients but cautioned that they don’t know who visited his clinics before 2007. The letters urge the patients to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV — viruses typically spread through intravenous drug use or unprotected sex, not occupational settings.

Harrington could not be reached for comment Thursday. A message at his Tulsa office said it was closed, and the doctor’s answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department. Phone numbers listed for Harrington were disconnected. A message left with Harrington’s malpractice attorney in Tulsa, Jim Secrest II, was not immediately returned.

Harrington’s Tulsa practice is in a thriving part of town, on a row of some of medical practices. The white-and-green stucco, two-story dental clinic has the doctor’s name in letters on the facade.

According to the complaint, the clinic had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment, needles were re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use and the office had no written infection-protection procedure.

Harrington told officials he left questions about sterilization and drug procedures to his employees.

“They take care of that, I don’t,” the dentistry board quoted him as saying.

The doctor also is accused of letting his assistants perform tasks only a licensed dentist should have done, including administering IV sedation. Also, the complaint says the doctor’s staff could not produce permits for the assistants when asked.

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