It could be a long time before criminal charges, if any, are filed against a Tulsa dentist accused of unsanitary practices that might have sickened as many as 7,000 of his patients, a dentistry board official said Monday.
Dr. Wayne Scott Harrington, a Tulsa dentist and oral surgeon, faces a complaint with 17 counts from the state Board of Dentistry accusing him of violations of state and federal laws and the state Dental Act.
Harrington potentially exposed his patients to blood-borne viruses including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, according to the state Health Department. More counts may be added to the complaint as the investigation continues.
But the state dentistry board's investigation has a long way to go before formally filing charges, with board officials still conducting interviews and trying to understand what happened at Harrington's Tulsa and Owasso offices.
Susan Rogers, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, said she has spoken with Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris but has not filed anything with his office.
“I have not presented anything for him to review and probably won't, if we ever do, for a while because we've got a lot more things to investigate and conclude before we're ready to take anything to him,” Rogers said Monday.
“Yes, I discussed the ongoing investigation today as to where we are on a couple of things, but that's all.”
Susan Witt, the Tulsa County district attorney spokeswoman, said the office hadn't received anything regarding Harrington yet.
Harrington, 64, received his dentist license in 1974 and his oral surgery specialty license in 1977. He voluntarily surrendered his state dental license on March 20, 2013, pending an emergency hearing at the state dentistry board April 19.
About a week after he surrendered his license, the Tulsa Health Department and state Health Department announced that, after a joint investigation with the state dentistry board, they were notifying about 7,000 of Harrington's patients that they might have been exposed to bloodborne viruses at the dentist practice.
Saturday, 420 of Harrington's patients were screened at the Tulsa Health Department's special testing clinic.
At the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, about 30 of Harrington's patients had been screened, as of Monday afternoon.
Harrington did not have a disciplinary history with the state dentistry board.
Before the investigation, Harrington was a member of the Oklahoma Dental Association and in good standing with the group.
In 2001, he was charged with driving while intoxicated in Dallas County, Texas.
He received two years' probation, according to court records.
Harrington's attorney could not be reached for comment.
Rogers said under state law, the state dentistry board is not allowed to investigate a dentist unless someone files a complaint with the board. Meanwhile, the state Health Department doesn't have jurisdiction to investigate dentists.
The dentistry board has had only two investigators for at least two years. They're looking to potentially hire a third.
Rogers estimates that of the 2,100 to 2,300 licensed dentists in Oklahoma, there are about 1,900 practicing.
“As far as doing statewide inspections, we don't have the people,” Rogers said. “We really don't.”
Rogers said if this had been only a dentist office, the number of patients likely would have been much smaller.
But Harrington was an oral surgeon, meaning every procedure he did was invasive, she said.
“He's pulling wisdom (teeth) a lot where you have open gum tissue down to the bone with open blood vessels, and then you have those instruments that are potentially not sanitized properly,” Rogers said.
“That's what has caused this to be exacerbated. That's why I keep referring to it as being a perfect storm.”
The dentistry board's complaint dubs Harrington “a menace to public health” for his office's failure to comply with universal precautions recommended for dentistry.
Throughout its complaint, the dentistry board lists examples of ways Harrington and his staff failed to meet sterilization and infection prevention requirements.
For one, the office kept two sets of instruments — one for patients who weren't believed to have infectious diseases and another one patients that they knew did, according to the complaint.
The set for patients with infectious diseases included “multiple tools that had no sheen and red-brown spots on the metal making the instruments appear to be rusted,” according to the complaint.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that rusted instruments are porous and cannot be properly sterilized, according to the complaint.
The dental assistants at Harrington's practice were allowed to administer IV sedation to patients, according to the complaint.
They also determined how much and what type of medication each patient should receive to sedate them, doing so before the dentist entered the room, according to court records.
During the inspections, Harrington referred to his staff regarding all sterilization and drug procedures in the office, saying, “They take care of that, I don't,” according to the complaint.
None of the dental assistants at the practice had permits, besides one assistant who had an “expanded duty permit for radiation safety,” according to the dentistry board complaint against Harrington.
This is far and beyond what a dental assistant in the state of Oklahoma is allowed to do, Rogers said.
Rogers said it's illegal for a dental assistant to administer anesthesia. It is a felony for anyone to practice dentistry without a license, she said.
“In this circumstance, they were injecting controlled dangerous drugs into their system, which they're not allowed to do, not at all,” Rogers said. “You know, a lot of things happen until something happens, and they go unchecked, and hopefully something good will come of this.”