Grand Jury Indicts Houston Dentist Bethaniel Jefferson in Child's Near-Death

Courissa Clark and her daughter, Nevaeh Hall, who suffered brain damage while Dr. Bethaniel Jefferson was treating her.
Courissa Clark and her daughter, Nevaeh Hall, who suffered brain damage while Dr. Bethaniel Jefferson was treating her. Photo by Troy Fields
More than a year after Nevaeh Hall was rushed in an ambulance from a Houston dental office to an emergency room after a sedation procedure went severely wrong and the child, then four, was deprived of oxygen, Dr. Bethaniel Jefferson, the dentist in charge of Hall's care, has been indicted by a Harris County grand jury.

As we've previously reported, Hall was deprived of adequate oxygen for so long — more than four hours — during her visit to Jefferson's office in January 2016 that she was left with permanent brain damage.

Jefferson was indicted on Monday, accused of intentionally and knowingly by omission causing serious bodily injury to a child by failing to seek and provide adequate medical attention, a first degree felony, according to the Texas Penal Code.

“Ms. Jefferson chose to do everything other than provide the care the victim needed,” Stan Clark, Assistant Attorney General, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and Special Prosecutor-Harris County D.A, stated. “As a result, the victim has suffered permanent brain damage and will never lead a normal life.”

On the morning of January 7, 2016, Hall was put under sedation at Diamond Dental for routine dental work. She suffered a seizure at about 11:30 a.m. and her temperature and oxygen levels plummeted shortly after, according to her medical records. Jefferson put Hall in a side room and told her parents the child needed recovery time, as we've reported, finally calling for medical assistance four hours later when Hall failed to show any signs of improvement.

Ultimately, it was found that Jefferson severely overmedicated the child, according to a report from the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners, as we wrote. Hall was given “large doses of anesthetic and sedatives,” and there were “warning sounds and visual indications which showed that for a period of five hours Hall's brain suffered from a severe lack of oxygen.”

Jefferson has a history of infractions with the state board starting in 2005, when the board reprimanded her for failing to enter patients’ vital signs in her records, according to board documents. She paid a $1,000 fine and took continuing education classes. In 2012, Jefferson again ran afoul of the board for not meeting standards of care while sedating a patient. She was fined $3,000 and once again ordered to take continuing education courses, but kept her license. Despite her past infractions, she was in good standing when she treated Hall.

However, the State Board of Dental Examiners moved quickly after the incident with Hall, suspending Jefferson's license temporarily that month. Her license was permanently revoked in December.

But now Jefferson is facing criminal charges, the result of a year-long investigation sparked by what happened to Hall. If convicted, she faces a sentence of five years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

“This indictment should send a message to the medical community that they will be held accountable for abandoning their patients in times of crisis," Clark stated. "While accidents in the health care industry occur more than everyone would prefer, practitioners must react appropriately and contact higher level medical care providers when they realize their patient is distressed beyond their capabilities."
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray