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Lawyer defends record of Oklahoma dentist in HIV-exposure scare

By Steve Olafson

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A lawyer for an Oklahoma oral surgeon accused of using improper sterilization procedures and rusty surgical tools that may have exposed patients to HIV and hepatitis said on Wednesday his client had an impeccable record and provided dedicated care.

The attorney for Dr. Scott Harrington did not address the specific allegations of improper care that have been lodged by state regulators. Instead, Tulsa lawyer James Secrest II issued a statement that defended Harrington's professional history.

"For almost 35 years, Dr. Harrington has provided Oklahomans with dedicated oral surgical care," the statement said. "His previous record with the dental board is impeccable."

It continued: "He is taking the recent allegations very seriously and is fully cooperating with the Oklahoma Dental Board. At this time, out of respect for his patients and the sensitivity of the issues, Dr. Harrington will make no further comment on this matter."

Health authorities are contacting 7,000 of Harrington's patients by mail to recommend they have their blood drawn so it can be screened for hepatitis and HIV.

More than 1,200 patients have been tested since Saturday. Results should be available in about two weeks, health officials said.

In addition to a home in the Tulsa area, property records show that Harrington owns a 2,504-square-foot home in Arizona, tucked into the desert landscape near a posh resort in Carefree, Arizona.

A man who was at that Arizona property on Wednesday was asked by Reuters to respond to the Oklahoma allegations.

"I appreciate the opportunity, but I have no comment at this time," he said. He declined any additional comment, saying, "You are not authorized to be on this property."

Harrington is scheduled to appear April 19 at a hearing of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry, which could revoke his license to practice. The board has filed 17 administrative complaints alleging Harrington provided unsafe care that may have exposed his patients to infectious diseases.

Harrington, 64, voluntarily surrendered his license after his offices were visited by investigators, who believe one of Harrington's patients contracted hepatitis at his office.

(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Arizona; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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