Dentist Uses Unlicensed Dental Assistants, Exposes Patients to HIV and Hepatitis

Dentist Wayne Harrington

Oklahoma dentist and oral surgeon Dr. Wayne Harrington, 64, has served thousands of patients in his Tulsa and Owasso offices over a 36-year career, but apparently none of them were aware of the appalling conditions in which they were being treated. Only after one low-risk patient was diagnosed as not only having hepatitis C, but also being HIV positive did state dentistry board officials trace the source of the diseases to Harrington’s practices. There, they discovered rusty instruments, improper sterilization, unlocked and unattended drug cabinets and practices that included reusing needles, applying bleach to wounds, using expired drugs and allowing dental assistants to administer intravenous anesthesia.

The latter doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s actually considered practicing dentistry without a license — a felony in Oklahoma. Laws regarding dental assistant duties vary by state, and this case highlights the importance of DAs knowing their state’s legal boundaries. Not only dentists, but assistants themselves can find themselves in jail for violations, and ignorance is no excuse. Likewise, not knowing proper maintenance, sanitation, safety and disease-prevention techniques is punishable by law, and if dental assistants think that their dentists will automatically fall on the sword for them, consider Harrington’s response when questioned about his staff’s improper drug handling and sterilization practices: “They take care of that. I don’t.”

In Harrington’s case, the stakes were all the higher because, as a Medicaid provider, he treated patients with a high incidence of HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases. As such, authorities sent notices to a whopping 7,000 patients whom Harrington has treated since 2007, advising them to get tested. Sadly, officials couldn’t acquire the names of his patients prior to 2007.

In the wake of the scandal, Harrington has given up his dentist’s license and has closed his two offices, meaning his assistants are out of work. He could face criminal charges in relation to a 17-count complaint filed by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry.

(Source: ABC News)