Medical gas mishap that injured Tonganoxie teen prompts questions

LAWRENCE | A mishap in a Lawrence dental office that resulted in serious injuries to a Tonganoxie teenager has raised questions about the inspections of medical gas systems by private contractors.

After allegations that an improperly installed medical gas system was to blame for the injuries last month, the Lawrence Journal-World reviewed policies in various cities regarding such equipment. The newspaper reported Wednesday that it found several other cities do significantly more to ensure that the systems are properly tested before being used on patients.

The newspaper's review also found Lawrence isn't alone in having a policy that essentially places all the burden of ensuring the safety of the system that delivers oxygen and nitrous oxide upon private builders.

"What happened to that young man is a nightmare scenario. I think this is the kind of thing that will cause people to ask whether we need to legislate some sort of final check for these systems," said Betty Wright, Kansas Dental Board executive director. "We'll certainly be asking those questions."

Lawrence building inspection leaders last week confirmed they have no record of whether a required third-party inspection of the medical gas system was ever conducted at the dental surgery center.

But Scott McCullough, the city's director of planning and development services, said he believes the law doesn't require the city to ensure that the test has been done.

"Events like this highlight the importance of contractors knowing and understanding the code and fulfilling its own requirements," McCullough said.

The dentist, Dr. S. Kirk Vincent, has said he didn't receive a certificate of inspection from the contractors and he was unaware that he was supposed to receive one.

Of the five other cities checked by the Journal-World — Manhattan, Olathe, Overland Park, Shawnee and Topeka — Olathe was the only one that followed the same policy as Lawrence. The other cities contacted by the newspaper have systems in place to verify that the testing has been done.

Herb Warren, chief building official for Olathe, said the incident in Lawrence has caused him to consider requiring that contractors provide written verification that the test has been done.

McCullough said Lawrence also will review its policy.

Although the other cities' systems vary, the end result is that a city building inspector is responsible for making sure that a document in the project's file shows the inspection was done. Without that verification, the city won't issue the final permit allowing the building to be occupied.