TULSA (AP) — A Tulsa oral surgeon at the center of a public health scare involving thousands of his patients signed an agreement every three years with a state agency to provide safe care to locked-up juveniles. But state officials said Friday that Dr. W. Scott Harrington apparently violated it.
A copy of the contract provided Friday by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to The Associated Press shows Harrington was required to keep clean equipment, properly train assistants and develop a safety policy to prevent communicable diseases.
"I know he did break the contract," Jo Kilgore, spokeswoman for the health care authority, told the AP on Friday. "It's very specific, our expectations of our providers."
Harrington began taking patients covered by Medicaid in 1984, according to authority records. That included at least 191 patients who were incarcerated at the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, which was the only maximum-security juvenile facility in the state before it closed in 2011.
Harrington's contract was terminated on March 29 — one day after authorities urged Harrington's roughly 7,000 patients to get tested after finding unsanitary conditions at his two Tulsa-area clinics, including varying cleaning procedures for equipment, needles re-inserted in drug vials after their initial use, drug vials used on multiple patients and no written infection-protection procedure. Unlicensed dental assistants were allegedly performing IV sedation, including determining amounts and types of medication to administer to patients in order to attain a sedative state before Harrington entered the room.
Health agencies said Thursday they were trying to track down the Rader patients to advise them to get tested for hepatitis and HIV. By Friday afternoon, 97 patients had been matched to the master list advising patients to get tested.
Tulsa's Health Department reported this week that four more of Harrington's patients tested positive for hepatitis C, bringing the total to 69 since testing began. One more patient tested positive for hepatitis B, bringing that total to four. One or two patients tested positive for HIV. It's not clear if the patients got the diseases at the clinic.
More than 3,700 patients have been tested since March at clinics statewide.
Officials noted in their investigation that Harrington's staff had said they knew several already-infected patients came to the clinic.
Susan Rogers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, said Harrington was one of the rare dentists who treated juveniles in custody "when they had police officers with them." But, Rogers said, treating those juvenile patients, "could be somewhat easy to do if he did it correctly."
It remained unclear whether any state agency will pursue legal action against Harrington for allegedly violating his contract. Previously, Rogers said Harrington and his staff could face at least two felony charges, including practicing dentistry without a license and aiding or abetting another person who is violating the state's dental act.
Rogers declined to comment on whether Harrington could face criminal charges.
"I can't confirm or deny anything at this time," she said Friday. "You can read between the lines."
An attorney for Harrington in Tulsa did not respond to a message seeking comment on the state authority contract.
Previously, his attorney said Harrington was cooperating with investigators and noted that his previous record with the state's dental board was "impeccable." Rogers also said Friday that Harrington was "cooperating with the board in every fashion."
According to the 11-page contract Harrington signed with the health care authority, he was required to "train staff ... to ensure patient safety; have a preventive maintenance program to ensure essential mechanical, electrical, and patient-care equipment is maintained in safe operating condition; and develop and enforce policies and procedures in accordance with laws regarding communicable diseases."