LELAND, N.C. (WECT) – One year after a prominent Wilmington doctor died after a dental procedure in the care of Dr. Mark Austin, Austin has permanently surrendered his dental license. An investigative panel for the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners found Austin’s actions resulted in his patient’s death. Dr. Henry Patel, a well-known cardiologist for Cape Fear Heart Associates, was 53 years old when he died.
“The [Investigative Panel] contends that Dr. Austin violated the standard of care, the Dental Practice Act, and the Board’s rules and regulations in his treatment of patient H.P. and during patient H.P.’s medical emergency and contends that the asserted violations resulted in the death of patient H.P.,” the Consent Order of Permanent Surrender reads.
Patel went to have a dental implant put in on July 30, 2020 at Austin Oral and Maxilliofacial Surgery in Leland. According to the Consent Order, Dr. Austin administered anesthesia and sedative agents to Patel before and during the procedure. Towards the end of the procedure, Patel’s oxygen saturation levels and heart rate dropped to life threatening levels.
The Consent Order says Dr. Austin attempted ventilating Dr. Patel, and then unsuccessfully attempted to place an endotracheal tube to assist with his breathing, before calling 911.
“Even though patient H.P.’s oxygenation and heart rate did not improve, Respondent did not successfully place an advanced airway adjunct, create a surgical airway via cricothyroidotomy, take specific intervention to treat bradycardia, nor initiate CPS prior to EMS’ arrival,” the Consent Order continues.
By the time EMS arrived, Dr. Patel no longer had a pulse. While medics were able to start his heart again, the damage was too great to survive. He was placed in the Intensive Care Unit at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with “irreversible anoxic brain injury.” He died on August 3, 2020.
The Consent Order, which was signed by Dr. Austin on August 11th, and by the NC Dental Board on August 16th, prevents Austin from ever practicing dentistry again in North Carolina. It notes that Dr. Austin “denies that he violated the standard of care, the Dental Practice Act, or the Board’s rules and regulations, or that his actions resulted in the death of patient H.P.” However, he “freely and voluntarily acknowledge[s] that the Board has sufficient evidence to prove and establish the findings of fact and conclusions of law and to warrant the order of discipline.”
After Dr. Patel’s death, investigators made other troubling findings at Dr. Austin’s office which complicated matters. They say Dr. Austin was prescribing controlled substances to his staff members, and did not keep required records tracking controlled substances.
“[O]n numerous occasions, [Austin] diverted controlled substances, including Fentanyl, from his dental practice for personal use and used them with at least one other employee of his dental practice during 2019 and 2020…,” the Consent Order explains. “[Austin] is a chronic and persistent user of intoxicants, drugs or narcotics to the extent that the same impairs his ability to practice dentistry in violation of NC. Gen. Statute 90-41(a)(2).”
The SBI has been conducting its own investigation into possible criminal violations, separate from Austin’s licensing issues. That investigation is ongoing.
Austin was originally licensed to practice dentistry in North Carolina in 2001, and gained a permit to administer anesthesia in 2014. During the course of the investigation, those licenses had been suspended. They are now permanently revoked.
Dr. Austin has previously declined requests for comment. A message to his attorney was not immediately returned.
Copyright 2021 WECT. All rights reserved.