State to offer AIDS tests to inmates treated by dentist Man who died of AIDS treated thousands at Pen

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

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 acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Officials declined to identify him because they are not sure if he did die of the disease.

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 CMS 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.

Experts say the risk of contracting the deadly AIDS virus from a dentist or doctor is extremely low. 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.

Johns Hopkins Hospital last year offered AIDS tests to abou 1,800 patients operated on by Dr. Rudolph Almaraz, a Baltimore surgeon who died of AIDS last November. There have been no reports that any of Almaraz's patients were infected with the virus during surgery.

The CDC is drafting new 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, said she 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. Some women from the state's pre-release unit in Baltimore may also have been treated at the Pen, according to Hilburn.

An obituary that appeared in the May 17 issue of Baltimore's Gay Paper said Luckritz "lived his life with a keen sense of humor and with panache. His characteristic response to adversity was, 'You will get over it.' He accepted his illness with incredible grace and equanimity."

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 that took place 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.

L "It was a mutual agreement that we part ways," Hilburn said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who met privately yesterday with several state officials to discuss the Luckritz case, 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.

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