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April 30, 2013

$700K: Dental testing costs rising

OKLAHOMA CITY —

The cost of blood tests for thousands of patients of a Tulsa oral surgeon being investigated for keeping unsanitary offices is nearing $700,000 so far, and state health officials said Tuesday they expected that figure to increase as more people come forward.
Through last week, 3,568 of Dr. W. Scott Harrington’s 7,000 patients have had blood drawn at county health departments across the state, with each test costing about $195.
The costs associated with the investigation are sure to rise, as follow-up tests, patient notification and time needed for disease investigations into patients who test positive have yet to be tallied, Leslea Bennett-Webb, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said in an interview.
“I wouldn’t even try to hazard a guess (as to a dollar estimate) because we still have people coming in,” she said. “This is a long-term response. This is not something we see a quick resolution to.”
Since Harrington’s patients were urged to get tested last month, 65 have tested positive for hepatitis C, three tested positive for hepatitis B and one or two for HIV.
Health officials caution that it would be highly unusual for those patients to have contracted the illnesses at the doctor’s two Tulsa-area clinics.
Officials also noted in their investigation that Harrington’s staff had said they knew several patients came to the clinic already infected. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spreading disease at a dental clinic is extremely rare, with just three known cases in two decades.
A phone message left for Harrington’s attorney in Tulsa was not returned Tuesday afternoon. 
 
A woman who took the message said neither Harrington nor his attorney planned to make any more public statements on the case.
Previously, his attorney said Harrington was cooperating with investigators and noted that his previous record with the state’s dental board was “impeccable.”
 
Authorities urged Harrington’s roughly 7,000 patients to get tested last month 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.
 
Harrington, who has been a dentist for 36 years, voluntarily surrendered his credentials on March 20. He faces an Aug. 16 license revocation hearing.
 

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