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Inquiries urged in dental deaths

Settlement reached in one case

The head of the Washington state Department of Health, responding to newspaper reports this week, is calling for all patient deaths linked to dental surgery to be investigated.

Mary C. Selecky’s letter to the head of the Dental Quality Assurance Commission came after recent investigations by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Spokesman-Review into the commission’s decision not to investigate three recent patient deaths.

“We are taking this issue very seriously,” said Health Department spokesman Donn Moyer.

James “Jimmy” Marks, a Spokane Gypsy leader, died last year in a Spokane hospital after dental surgery in the office of Spokane dentist Mark C. Paxton. A Seattle man died after his wisdom teeth were removed, and an elderly woman died after Spokane oral surgeon Dr. Terrance Hauck removed her teeth in 2005 in preparation for dentures. The Spokesman-Review found a fourth, unreported case of a Spokane man who died following palate surgery.

“A patient death is a very serious matter. While these deaths are rare, I’m sure you agree that they must be taken very seriously,” Selecky said in her letter to Spokane dentist Pramod Sinha, chairman of the Dental Quality Assurance Commission.

“If every case is investigated, the commission can be assured it has all the details needed to make an informed decision for patient safety and public protection,” Selecky said in her letter.

The dental commission didn’t have an immediate response to the letter.

The Health Department has also revised its Web site this week – cross-referencing every license held by a provider – so that consumers can more easily access information about any action taken against a health provider. That was an issue in the Hauck case, where the death of the 89-year-old woman was noted under his medical license but not under his dental license because the dental commission took no disciplinary action.

The Department of Health’s Medical Quality Assurance Commission also announced a settlement in the Hauck case, which was being negotiated last week before the newspaper articles were published. Hauck will pay a $10,000 fine, and his medical license will be placed on probation for two years, state records show.

Hauck must also use a certified anesthesia provider for high-risk patients and must take an annual class in sedation procedures. State investigators will review his records every six months during his probation.

Karen Dorn Steele can be reached at (509) 459-5462 or by e-mail at karend@spokesman.com.


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