Dentist Potentially Infects Patients With HIV, Gets Slap On The Wrist


A Tulsa Dentist is facing negligence charges due to the fact that his equipment was not sterile, potentially exposing thousands of his patients to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.  Hidden behind the seemingly clean and professional exterior, investigators were shocked and horrified to see the lack of sanitation in the office.  Patients, often referred by local hospitals through their Medicare program, often received treatment from assistants that were not licensed to be practicing instead of the professional dentist.  Not only was the equipment not sterilized, but cabinets that stored drugs and the equipment were left unlocked, unlabeled and unattended.  One particular drug was found to have expired in 1993.

While the dentist, W. Scott Harrington, is going to be facing charges of negligence and “being a menace to the public health” the maximum extent of his crime will be the loss of his license.  This is an utter failure in my estimation, considering his negligence can potentially harm and kill several thousands of his patients.  His conduct borders on gross negligence and he should be charged with something greater.  The dilemma is that he cannot be charged with attempted negligent homicide because you cannot attempt to be negligent.

However there is something wrong about letting Harrington go with a slap on the wrist, and yes I consider loss of his license a slap on the wrist.  What happens if his patients have contracted one of the diseases listed above?  Will a civil lawsuit be able to fully compensate them for their pain, suffering and potential loss of life?  There are certain responsibilities that are expected from medical professionals, including a reasonable standard of care when giving treatment.  Not only was Harrington allowing unlicensed people to operate and perform tasks delegated only to those that are licensed, he was knowingly exposing his patients to deadly risks.  He should be thrown in jail for allowing 7,000 of his patients to be unknowingly subjected to his negligent care.

My question is whether there is anything that can be done to prevent medical professionals like Harrington from practicing in a grossly negligent manner?

Source: CNN



  1. I agree with Dan’s sentiment expressed above. I too believe that Harrington and other medical professionals who maintain poor sanitation and expose their patients to potential diseases, possibly resulting in death, need to face stricter punishments and penalties for their acts. The harshest penalty being a possible loss of license is not enough, especially when viewed in light of the possible consequences of their actions. “Investigators also found that the autoclave, the machine designed to sterilize dental instruments meant to be tested each month, hadn’t been checked in six years.” (ABC News) Further, it was found that “Harrington allegedly re-used needles, contaminating drugs with potentially harmful bacteria and trace amounts of other drugs.” (ABC News) The fact that this went on in a doctor’s office, is disgraceful and the fact that at most, Harrington could lose his license is a serious flaw, and to prevent medical professionals from engaging in this grossly negligent behavior in the future, jail time must accompany such acts to have a true deterrent effect.

  2. Not surprisingly, the medical board wants Dr. Harrington to face criminal charges. Following investigations, the Oklahoma’s Dental Board discovered that Harrington’s office used two sets of equipment – one for patients with infectious diseases, the other for patients clear of disease. Bleach was used to clean the equipment used on infected patients, which led to the deterioration of the equipment, making them difficult if not impossible to sterilize. Also, Harrington’s office had neglected to test its equipment. The board notes that Harrington has been sued in the past for medical malpractice and negligence, a detail that perhaps contributes to the board’s urging prosecution. At this point, Harrington has relinquished his license (done on March 20, 2013), and will appear for a hearing on April 19 where his certification could be revoked. I don’t think anyone feels any sort of remorse for this guy. People already detest going to the dentist. If the medical board continues to admit dentists that expose the public to grave risks and dangers, dentists will soon be out of business.

  3. This is very disturbing case and luckily it is a very rare case as most dentists/doctors in the United States take their pledge to “do no harm” very seriously. What scares me the most about the CNN article was reading that one of the former patients remarked that “the office was clean” and that she “had no idea that things weren’t what they should have been.”

    Additionally, it definitely seems that Harrington did not employ the same duty of care that other reasonable dentists carry out. After doing a bit of research on dental sterilization, most dental tools go through a lengthy sterilization process. First they are washed in an ultrasonic cleaner, which is a cleaning device that uses ultrasound technology, then put into sterilized bags and put into an autoclave, which sterilizes the tools using high pressure steam. Furthermore, the needles are never to be reused but to be thrown into a special box and taken away by a company that deals with medical waste.

    I think that Harrington is going to have major problems at trial if it is shown that he did not go through similar sterilization procedures. Furthermore, expert (dental) witnesses will most likely be called to the stand to testify as to the proper duty of care, which Harrington allegedly did not employ.

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