State dental examiners under fire

March 08, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff writer

More than 100 Maryland dentists were administering general anesthesia on expired licenses, according to a draft report by state investigators.

Maryland Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said he is so concerned about the report's findings that he will call today for the removal of all 14 members of the Board of Dental Examiners, which is responsible for renewing licenses.

"I think it's a terrible situation -- one that could potentially be very dangerous," he said.

Board members blame Mr. Sabatini's department for the problem. The state is trying to take credit for exposing problems the board was already seeking to correct, the board said.

Public health and safety are not imperiled, said Dr. Edna Hirsch, a board member from Havre de Grace.

"The dentists are being regulated well," she said.

The draft report, obtained by The Sun, criticizes the work of the board, which is made up of nine dentists, three dental hygienists and two consumers.

Investigators concluded that infighting among board members is threatening to disrupt their main responsibility -- licensing and disciplining dentists and hygienists.

The state budget department launched an investigation into the board last year after Mr. Sabatini and Baltimore County Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte received complaints about it. A final version of the report is expected to be released as early as today.

According to the draft, some dentists and dental offices administered general anesthesia to patients for as long as four years on expired permits.

Dentists, primarily specialists in oral surgery, use general anesthesia to make a patient unconscious before surgery. The board is charged with making sure those dentists are qualified to administer anesthesia and their offices are properly equipped.

"To date it appears that 121 dentists and 123 facilities have expired general anesthesia permits," the report said.

That troubles Mr. Sabatini, who said, "They [board members] were just not doing the job they were supposed to be doing."

Still, he is willing to give those unlicensed dentists the benefit of the doubt in terms of their competency. "One would have to assume the vast majority of those licenses would be renewed" anyway, he said.

The board said it failed to renew permits because Mr. Sabatini's department froze some of its funds in 1991 during the state budget crisis.

The board gained control of its own budget a year later, but it shifted its attention to processing permits for the sedating of patients, said Larrie L. Bennett, the board's administrator.

Renewing the anesthesia licenses did not become a priority until last September, when the board became aware of the problem, Mr. Bennett said. In the past several months, it has renewed most of those permits, he said.

"We were negligent in doing our job, but we have choices and priorities we have to set," Mr. Bennett said.

The board received no complaints related to anesthesia during the time the permits were expired, he said.

Mr. Sabatini said he does not remember a budget freeze specifically affecting the board in 1991.

Even so, he said, the board could have begun renewing permits a year later, when it obtained control over its own budget.

The report also said the board has not been as speedy as it should be in deciding allegations of incompetence, misbehavior or impropriety by dentists. The board receives about 160 such complaints a year.

The report cited one case in which the board voted last April to revoke a dentist's license to practice. (A board member contended that the group actually voted to suspend the license). Almost a year has passed, and the board has not officially ordered the dentist to stop practicing.

Because final action is still pending, the board refused to release the dentist's name or the charge against him or her. In the meantime, the dentist is legally able to practice.

The board blamed the attorney general's office for the slowness, saying it is taking far too long to write the letter, or "final order," to the dentist in question.

"Any order that takes that long to write is a real concern to us," said board Vice President Tammy R. Doring, a dental hygienist from Severna Park.

Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler said the board's explanation "is completely wrong." He said his office hasn't completed the final order because the board has not make a final decision on the case.

"They've been criticized by the budget department, and now they turn around and blame their problems on someone else," Mr. Tyler said.

In Annapolis today, the House Environmental Matters Committee will hear public testimony on a bill to remove all 14 board members.

Mr. Sabatini said his department will testify in support of the bill.

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