By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On July 14, 2016, a former oral surgeon in Oklahoma was sentenced to six months’ house arrest for fraudulently billing Medicaid for anesthesia services that were performed by unlicensed dental assistants. W. Scott Harrington, whose dental practice led to thousands of patients’ being tested for HIV and Hepatitis, pled guilty in April 2016 to money laundering and agreed to pay nearly $30,000 in restitution under an agreement with federal prosecutors. He was also sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine within one month.
It is actually quite remarkable that he did not get any prison time, given the facts of the case.
Unsanitary Clinic Conditions Found.
In 2013, Harrington’s two Tulsa area clinics were shut down due to unsanitary conditions. State health officials urged about 7,000 of his current and former patients to get tested for diseases because of the conditions inside the clinic that included rusty equipment and reused needles.
Of the thousands of patients tested, one had contracted a disease, hepatitis C, at a Harrington clinic. Investigators say it was the nation’s first known transmission of hepatitis C between patients in a dental office.
Harrington surrendered his professional license in 2014 after more than 35 years in practice.
Click here to read more on this story.
The Money Laundering Charge.
The money laundering charge against Harrington was the first criminal case brought against him after his clinics were closed in March 2013. Several civil lawsuits were also filed by former patients.
In the money laundering case, prosecutors alleged Harrington deposited into his account more than $15,000 of Medicaid funds resulting from the fraudulent billing for anesthesia performed between January and June of 2012. Prosecutors also alleged that Harrington issued a $15,000 check from his account payable to W.S. Harrington LLC, which was another entity Harrington controlled for his personal benefit.
Harrington’s attorney sought a lighter sentence of probation and a fine, saying his client was a leader in his field and offered free dental services to patients who couldn’t afford to pay for them. However, prosecutors said in court records that Harrington behaved recklessly and chose to “place efficiency ahead of patient care” so he could quickly move from procedure to procedure. The prosecutor in the case, also argued that Harrington should not receive special treatment from his good deeds to the community done in the past.
U.S. District Chief Judge, Gregory K. Frizzell, opted for a lighter sentence, stating that none of Harrington’s patients suffered injury as a result of the unsupervised administration of anesthesia.
To learn about fraud, click here to read one of my prior blogs.
One thing that may have persuaded the judge was that the services were actually delivered, even if delivered by unqualified people. To me, though, it is unforgivable for a dentist or any healthcare professional in this day and age to be using rusty equipment and reusing needles. This does not seem to be a matter at all related to “efficiency,” just gross negligence. It’s like arguing that it’s okay to drive a car at 100 mph and drive on the sidewalks to get some place, because then you take less time and are more efficient. I believe the board of dentistry would see it that way, as well. And if you don’t hit and kill anyone while doing so, well then it’s just a minor thing.
To see the blog I wrote about the major source of patient injury and deaths today, click here.
Consult With An Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Dentists.
We routinely provide legal representation to dentists, dental hygienists and other health professionals being in licensure, administrative and criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases involving other health professionals. We also represent professionals in defense of Medicare and Medicaid fraud allegations, actions for overpayments, False Claims Act (whistle blower) cases, and civil monetary penalty cases.
The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing dentists and dental hygienists and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of dentistry hearings and other legal matters. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Juozapavicius, Justin. “EX-DENTIST GETS HOUSE ARREST FOR BILKING MEDICAID.” Associated Press. (July 15, 2016). Web.
“Ex Dentist Gets House Arrest for Bilking Medicaid.” The New York Times. (July 14, 2016). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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