MORRIS COUNTY, N.J. — A New Jersey oral surgeon has agreed to a five-year suspension of his medical license to resolve allegations of unsanitary conditions in his Mount Olive office after 15 of his patients contracted bacterial endocarditis, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced earlier this week.
One of Dr. John Vecchione's patients died and 12 others required heart surgery to treat the potentially deadly infection between 2012 and 2014, Grewal said. Vecchione also agreed to pay $293,500 in penalties and costs.
He was temporarily suspended from practice in August 2016 when inspectors alleged that he failed to maintain sanitary conditions at his surgical office even after the New Jersey Department of Health connected “breaches of infection prevention practices” to his office.
Vecchione, who also practiced in Parsippany, agreed at the time to a temporary suspension of his license until his case was resolved. Shortly before he was scheduled to take the stand in his own defense last month, Vecchione agreed to settle the case under terms contained in a final consent order approved last week by the State Board of Dentistry.
“This settlement brings closure to a troubling case in which a medical professional allegedly took irresponsible risks with patients’ health by disregarding health and safety standards,” Grewal said.
The active suspension period is retroactive to Aug. 31, 2016, the date on which Vecchione agreed to the temporary suspension of his license. Vecchione may commence his one-year probationary period as early as Aug. 31, provided he complies with the terms of the consent order.
The state alleged that Vecchione engaged in "professional misconduct and gross negligence that endangered patient lives in repeated breaches of infection control practices set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and federal regulators."
That alleged negligence, inspectors said, included a failure to use sterile water or sterile saline during surgical procedures, improper handling and storage of single-dose medication vials, non-sterile preparation of instruments, and improper handling and disposal of needles and syringes.
The complaint charges that the bacteria were "most likely introduced into the patients' bloodstreams through breaches of infection prevention practices during the administration of intravenous sedation at the practice."
After Vecchione's initial suspension, Rene Del Grosso of Jefferson told the Daily Record that his 25-year-old son, Ryan, was one of the 15 patients diagnosed with endocarditis after getting his wisdom teeth pulled by Vecchione in June 2014.
"Within a day or so of the procedure he passed out, but I thought nothing of it," Rene Del Grosso said. "Then the same thing happened a few weeks later. And he started losing weight. Then he passed out at work and we were taking multiple trips to the doctor because he had a high fever and chills."
Ryan Del Grosso was eventually rushed to Morristown Medical Center, where a doctor finally diagnosed him with a rare form of endocarditis after realizing he had seen another patient with a similar diagnosis who also had had oral surgery performed by Vecchione.
"Enterococcus faecalis, which literally means feces. It's waste, basically, that my son was exposed to," Rene Del Grosso said. "It's beyond belief what this guy was able to do."
According to a Health Department investigative report, the annual estimated national incidence rate of all endocarditis cases in the United States is 15 per 100,000 people, with only 1.5 of those cases being the enterococcal species of endocarditis.
Based on the number of cases identified as associated with Vecchione's practice, the incident rate of enterococcal endocarditis there was 372.7 cases per 100,000 persons, which is 248 times greater than the national rate, the complaint said.
Under the terms of the consent order, the final year of suspension is to be served as a period of probation under the close supervision of a board-approved dentist, who will submit certified reports to the board.
Vecchione also must complete board-approved courses in office management, record-keeping, and infection control practices, procedures, implementation and maintenance. Additionally, before resuming practice, he must successfully complete an ethics course.
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