NEWARK – Oral surgeon Dr. John Vecchione, whose Budd Lake office was associated with 15 cases of bacterial endocarditis in 2016, has agreed to a five-year license suspension and $293,500 in penalties and costs to resolve the State’s allegations that his continued failure to follow infection control protocols exposed his patients to the risk of contracting the serious heart infection.
Vecchione was temporarily suspended from practice in August 2016 amid allegations that he failed to maintain sanitary conditions at his surgical office even after the State Department of Health (“DOH”) associated “breaches of infection prevention practices” at his office with 15 cases of bacterial endocarditis contracted by patients he treated between 2012 and 2014. Twelve of those patients required heart surgery. One died.
Vecchione, who agreed to the temporary suspension of his license until his case was resolved, had been fighting the allegations in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. 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 by the State Board of Dentistry last week.
“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,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “We are committed to ensuring that medical practitioners do not flout professional standards in place to protect patients’ health and safety.”
In a Verified Complaint filed in August 2016, 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.
Among the alleged breaches were 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 allegations stemmed from a series of inspections conducted after the outbreak of endocarditis among Vecchione’s patients was discovered.
“Dr. Vecchione spent years denying any responsibility for the infections contracted by patients in his care,” said Howard Pine, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We are pleased that he has agreed to accept the terms of this Final Consent Order, which not only hold Dr. Vecchione responsible for his repeated violations of infection control regulations, but put in place controls and procedures to protect patients should he ever seek to reinstate his license and resume practicing dentistry in this state.”
Under the terms of the Consent Order, Vecchione’s license is suspended for a period of five years, with four years to be served as an active period of suspension and the remaining year to be served as a period of probation under the close supervision of a Board-approved dentist, who will observe his practices and submit signed and certified reports to the Board.
Vecchione also must successfully complete Board approved courses in office management, record-keeping, and infection control practices, procedures, implementation, and maintenance. Additionally, prior to resuming practice, he must successfully complete an ethics course for medical professionals.
The active suspension period is retroactive to August 31, 2016, the date on which Vecchione agreed to the temporary suspension of his license. Vecchione will be permitted to commence his one-year probationary period as early as August 31, 2020, provided he complies with the terms of the Consent Order and first demonstrates of his fitness and competency to resume practice.
Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation into this matter with assistance from the Department of Health.
Deputy Attorney General Pavithra Angara of the Professional Boards Prosecution Section in the Division of Law represented the State in this matter.
Patients who believe that they have been treated by a licensed health care professional in an inappropriate manner can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.