by Kimberly Allen, RN
The upscale stucco building that houses the dental offices of Dr Wayne Harrington in Tulsa, Ok is a perfect example of “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”. Despite the fact that the offices appeared clean on the surface what health inspectors found underneath made them feel “physically sick”. Not only did inspectors find that the standard rules of sanitation were completely ignored but they also discovered 2 separate sets of instruments that were each cleaned using different methods. The complaint states that one method was used to clean the instruments used in patients with known infectious diseases while another method was used to clean the instruments used in patients that were believed not to have any disease. They even found instruments that were rusty and that the machine used to sterilize them wasn’t working properly. According to officials there is a test that is supposed to be done monthly to determine if the equipment is working properly. When asked an assistant that has been with the clinic for 6 years stated that the test had not been preformed in that time. They also found the drug cabinet left unsecured as well as unsupervised. It also contained numerous expired drugs. One vial they found had an expiration date of 1993. Further that despite the records of the US Drug Enforcement Agency indicate that Dr Harrington had not received any morphine shipments since 2009 the drug log that his assistants kept indicated morphine was still being used throughout 2012. Inspectors also found that not only were the employees not properly licensed to perform the tasks they were but they were re-using needles and reinserting needles into ‘sterile’ vials as well as using vials on multiple patients. There was also no written policy or infection protection protocol anywhere in the office. When asked the Dr stated he didn’t concern himself with such matters.
Although Dr Harrington has been practicing for 36 years they only have information on patients after 2007. According to investigators Dr Harrington’s staff stated that he serves a “high population of known infectious disease carrier patients”. That and the fact that as an oral surgeon Dr Harrington regularly did invasive procedures involving open wounds and open blood vessels as well as pulling teeth has officials concerned. Many have asked how long has these practices been going on, but health officials are unable to say. The Dentistry Board does not have the resources to routinely inspect dental offices so an investigation is only begun after a complaint is filed. In this case a patient filed a complaint after testing positive for hepatitis C that could only be traced back to Dr Harrington’s office. This has prompted officials to send out approximately 7,000 letters to people that were known to have been treated at either of Dr Harrington’s 2 Tulsa clinics. Officials are calling the dentist “a menace to public health”. He could have exposed thousands of unsuspecting people to HIV, and hepatitis B and C as well as himself and his staff. Health officials are urging the dentists patients to get tested for hepatitis B and C as well as HIV and are providing the testing free. Though health officials state emphatically this is not an outbreak alert only a call to be tested. however, there is concern as some people can be infected without having symptoms for years. The next issue is if more patients test positive for any of the infectious diseases in question what about the people the patient has potentially infected without knowing it. The extent and severity of the damage caused by this one dentists disregard for human health and life may not be known for sometime.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.