By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On November 1, 2017, a dentist working at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Wisconsin engaged in un-sterile practices that could have exposed patients to deadly viruses. Tomas Schiller’s actions caused patients emotional distress, a proposed class action claimed in Wisconsin federal court. The suit involves six veterans who received dental work from Schiller at the Tomah VA Medical Center between October 2016 and October 2017.
According to the six veterans involved, the dentist violated infection control standards established by the American Dental Association (ADA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs, putting his patients in danger. The patients underwent blood testing to determine if they had been infected with hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV from the alleged misconduct and suffered “severe emotional distress” while awaiting the results, the suit says.
He allegedly used un-sterile dental devices that he attempted to disinfect with a product often used to clean floors, reused single-use devices on multiple patients, didn’t wash his hands or wear protective equipment and sometimes slept at his desk during work hours.
Turning the Other Cheek.
According to the suit, a dental assistant noticed the alleged misconduct and told at least two supervisors who neglected to do anything. Additionally, several other employees knew of his actions, but managers indicated on a professional evaluation form in 2016 that they had “no concerns regarding competency,” according to the complaint. Managers eventually confronted Schiller about his behavior that fall, at which point he admitted that he believed using and reusing the unsterile devices was “common practice,” according to the suit.
After the alleged misconduct was revealed, the medical center sent patients a letter informing patients that they were at risk of having been infected with deadly viruses, the suit says. They then underwent blood testing, but patients who had received dental services within the past six months had to wait another six months to undergo testing to ensure the viruses would be detectable, the complaint notes.
All of the patients who had blood work done tested negative for the viruses, although the waiting period was emotionally painful, the suit says. The patients allege negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent training, supervision and retention.
To read the complaint in full, click here.
In 2013, there was a similar case of an Oklahoma dentist who exposed 7,000 patients to HIV due to unsanitary conditions and violations. Click here to read my prior blog on this case.
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Graf, Rachel. “Dentist’s Unsanitary Habits Put Vets At Risk, Suit Says.” Law360. (November 1, 2017). Web.
“Dentist’s Unsanitary Habits Put Vets At Risk.” Lexis Nexis. (November 1, 2017). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with 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 Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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