The story of Tung Shen (David) Wu, said to be practicing dentistry in a filthy bedroom of a Lower Mainland home without a licence, is a cautionary one for those believing public health authorities in British Columbia are responsibly carrying out their duties for the good of the community.
The public learned earlier this month that the so-called "bedroom dentist" had been operating in unfettered fashion for some 20 years, first in Port Moody and later in Burnaby.
Reportedly trained years ago in Taiwan, the 62-year-old Wu - whose whereabouts at the moment aren't known - was operating without a dental licence, providing services at cutrate prices to some 1,500 patients out of a bedroom in a home, reportedly using improperly-sterilized equipment and materials in unhygienic conditions. But this saga in fact started in 2002 when the College of Dental Surgeons initially learned of Wu's operations. Back then, the college did not bother to notify the relevant health authority of its discovery. And so, a public health emergency alert was never issued - something now characterized as "a scary situation" by Fraser Health Authority medical health officer Michelle Murti.
The court injunction issued at the time to halt Wu's operations clearly was ignored by the rogue dentist.
College registrar Jerome Marburg recently called the manner in which his organization handled the 2002 situation "unacceptable."
Lo and behold, on May 29, the college, reacting to a patient complaint, raided the Burnaby clinic, RCMP in tow.
Then, on June 21, the Fraser Health Authority demanded information on the Wu case from the college - sealed information that was not forthcoming until a B.C. Supreme Court judge in late July forced the college to release the relevant documents.
Neither the Fraser Health Authority nor the College of Dental Surgeons alerted the public of the dental debacle until Aug. 7, with the health authority recommending Wu's former patients get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C. The question that arises in all this is why did the college so mishandle the 2002 situation involving Wu?
And why did the relevant regulatory authorities show such an inability to co-ordinate their actions and share information for the public good? This is especially disconcerting given that B.C.'s Health Professions Act has conferred self-governing powers on the College of Dental Surgeons.
Meanwhile, no one seems to know where Wu is, beyond that he had arranged for his belongings to be shipped overseas via Toronto.
The college is trying to track him down in order to have a warrant served on him and to ensure he appears in court.
Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s chief medical officer, wants the college to determine whether a broader problem exists in terms of unlicensed health practitioners serving B.C.'s immigrant community.
This is a good idea. More needs to be done, as well, to advertise the availability of dental clinics offering less costly services for those who need, but cannot afford, regular dental fees.
Both the faculty of dentistry at the University of B.C. and Vancouver Community College offer dental clinics at reduced rates and the B.C. Dental Association on its website posts a list of reduced-cost clinics where qualified dentists perform dental work.
This editorial first appeared in the Vancouver Sun.
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