TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The head of Oklahoma's dental board said Monday her office wants prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against a Tulsa oral surgeon at the center of a public health scare involving at least 7,000 of his patients.
Susan Rogers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, told The Associated Press that she met with Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris on Monday to discuss whether Dr. W. Scott Harrington is criminally liable.
The 17-count complaint filed last week by Rogers' office called Harrington a "menace to the public health." The complaint also said officials found rusty instruments, potentially contaminated drug vials and improper use of a machine designed to sterilize tools.
Harrington and his staff could face at least two felony charges, Rogers said, including practicing dentistry without a license and aiding or abetting another person who is violating the state's dental act. Rogers said each of those crimes carries a prison term of up to four years and a $10,000 fine.
"I did speak to the DA this morning and I've talked to other officials, and I can't comment on those conversations, but there's more to come," Rogers told AP.
A spokeswoman at the district attorney's office could not comment Monday because prosecutors haven't received any paperwork from the dentistry board. A message left Monday morning with Harrington's attorney in Tulsa was not immediately returned.
Harrington had been a dentist for 36 years before voluntarily giving up his license March 20. He faces an April 19 hearing at which he could have his certification revoked.
Inspectors said they found unsafe practices at Harrington's Tulsa-area clinics and letters were sent to 7,000 patients, urging them to be screened for hepatitis B and C and the virus that causes AIDS.
According to the Oklahoma Dentistry Board's complaint, Harrington's practice had varying cleaning procedures for its equipment, needles were re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use, drug vials were used on multiple patients and the office had no written infection-protection procedure.
Also, dental assistants performed some tasks reserved to a licensed dentist, such as administering IV sedation. A device used to sterilize equipment hadn't undergone required monthly tests in at least six years.
"When this started, I had no idea it was going to be this bad or this broad," Rogers said Monday. "This one scared me."
More than 400 people lined up outside a Tulsa health clinic on Saturday to get tested, and dozens more did so Monday morning, a health department spokeswoman said. Letters urging patients to get tested should arrive no later than about two weeks, Kaitlin Snider, spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department, said. Those tested should receive their results within two weeks, she said Monday.
"We are here for the long haul," Snider said. "We know we can't screen 7,000 patients in a day or even in a week."
Court records also show that Harrington was sued for medical malpractice in 1994, and the case was settled in 1995. He was also sued for negligence in 1997, which was settled out of court in the same year.