State to seek out, offer AIDS tests to inmates treated by infected dentist.


May 23, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff William Thompson contributed to this story.

The revelation that a prison dentist died from AIDS has spurred Gov. William Donald Schaefer to say he will push for a state requirement that all medical personnel under state contract to be tested "before they ever touch anyone."

It was Schaefer's strongest statement on the issue of whether health care workers should be tested for the AIDS virus.

"Whether I can do that or not, I don't know, but it's what I want," Schaefer said yesterday in Annapolis after meeting privately with state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and corrections Secretary Bishop L. Robinson.

Several experts said today that Schaefer's proposal may be unworkable and ineffective. State law now prohibits anybody from being forced to take an AIDS test, according to Deputy Attorney General Judson P. Garrett. And testing health-care workers would have to take place on a frequent basis to screen out all carriers of the virus, experts said.

The state prison system will look for thousands of inmates who were treated by a Maryland Penitentiary dentist who died of AIDS this month and offer them free AIDS tests.

Officials also are investigating the possibility that a second dentist who treated inmates at the Pen died of AIDS. Officials declined to identify him because they are not sure if he did die of the disease.

The dentist, Victor J. Luckritz, who died of AIDS complications May 7, left the state prison medical system in April 1990 after a dispute over his occasional habit of not using protective gloves while seeing patients, according to John D. Hilburn, vice president for operations at Correctional Medical Systems, the private firm that provides medical services at state prisons.

Hilburn estimated yesterday that about 10 percent of the state's 18,265 prisoners are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

Richard A. Lanham Sr., the commissioner of correction, said officials don't know yet if Luckritz infected any of his patients.

Luckritz worked on a contractual basis for Correctional Medical Systems and the prison system's previous medical provider between July 1988 and April 1990, according to state officials.

Luckritz may also have had a private dental practice in the Baltimore area, according to Lanham.

Lanham said inmates would be notified "even though medical authorities have advised me the risk of contracting AIDS from a dentistry procedure is minimal." He said prison officials began telling inmate representatives last night.

The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta estimates the risk of AIDS to patients of infected dentists as between 1 in 263,000 and 1 in 2.6 million patients.

Even so, cases involving medical providers with AIDS have made headlines.

The CDC is drafting guidelines for protecting patients from AIDS and could recommend that all health-care workers be tested.

State officials said they learned about Luckritz's AIDS-related death when a Division of Correction employee saw his obituary in the newspaper. Luckritz, who died at age 47, lived in Mount Washington in north Baltimore.

Luckritz's mother, who lives in Dayton, Ohio, was angry that state officials would make her son's case public.

"If those inmates have it, they probably got it from each other, with their drugs and their needles and their things like that," said his mother, who would identify herself only as Mrs. Luckritz. "It's a crime to bring it up and besmirch him."

Mrs. Luckritz, who once worked as an office assistant for her son, said he was always careful around patients.

Mrs. Luckritz said she thought her son learned he had AIDS "about a year ago," which would have been about the same time he left the state prison system.

Prison officials could only estimate that Luckritz saw "thousands" of patients in 21 months on the job. Inmates at the state's five prisons for men in Baltimore came to the Pen for dental treatment. Women from the state's pre-release unit in Baltimore may also have been treated at the Pen, Hilburn said.

An obituary in the May 17 issue of Baltimore's Gay Paper said Luckritz "lived his life with a keen sense of humor and with panache."

That image contrasted with the picture painted by state prison officials who said Luckritz often clashed with other medical workers at the prison.

Hilburn said Luckritz would sometimes not wear gloves if he was not likely to break the patient's skin during treatment. He described an incident in late March 1990, in which a maximum-security inmate refused to be treated by Luckritz because the dentist was not wearing protective gloves.

CMS officials told Luckritz that he would have to follow the company's policy and wear protective gear during all patient treatments. A few days later, in April 1990, Luckritz quit the company, Hilburn said.

Schaefer, moved quickly to divert any criticism or liability claims that may be lodged by prisoners against the state.

Schaefer said the private health-care company that contracted with Luckritz should have been aware of his HIV infection and should be held accountable.

Schaefer also criticized the state's professional organizations that represent doctors for what he said was a failure to develop AIDS policies designed to protect and inform the public.

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