The dentist, Michael DeRose of Pueblo, co-owns the Medicaid Dental Center (MDC) with Dr. Letitia Ballance that operates seven clinics in North Carolina. Until recently, DeRose and his father Dr. Ed DeRose, also of Pueblo, also owned dental clinics that catered to poor children across the country, including several in Colorado. The DeRoses sold their clinics to a company they founded, called FORBA, and new management took over. FORBA no longer has any affiliation with the DeRoses.
The DeRoses also no longer practice dentistry in Colorado.
"These dentists subjected their child patients to invasive and sometimes painful procedures, often for the sake of obtaining money from the North Carolina Medicaid program," said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, the acting Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Dept. of Justice's Civil Division.
Under the terms of the settlement with the federal government, DeRose and Ballance agreed not to contest allegations that their clinics performed "excessive treatments" on seven patients, by giving them root canals and stainless steel caps on their baby teeth when they were not warranted or supported by any medical data. All of the unnecessary procedures were performed between the years 2001-2003.
MDC also allegedly failed to get informed consent from the parents for all of the medical procedures and services on their children.
When 4-year-old Brandon Dillbeck went to get his teeth cleaned at an MDC clinic in Charlotte, dentists drilled and capped 16 of his teeth. His mother Christy Dillbeck told NBC affiliate station WCNC in Charlotte she didn't know what they were doing to her son because the clinic made her stay in the waiting room.
To perform all of that work on Brandon in one visit, Dillbeck said they strapped Brandon in a restraint device called a papoose board, without her knowledge.
"When he came out he was crying, his whole shirt was soaking wet with sweat," said Christy Dillbeck after her son's trip to the dentist in 2004. "His whole head was soaking wet and his mouth was full of gauze, just held open."
The dentists also performed 16 baby root canals and put stainless steel caps on a young girl named Sarah and gave 3-year-old Jonathan 17 root canals and 17 caps, according to WCNC-TV Investigative Reporter Stuart Watson, who first exposed the story in 2004.
"Health care professionals who abuse their positions and engage in excessive treatment regimens and excessive billing practices will not be tolerated," said Gretchen Shappert, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. "It is public trust. Individuals who use their professional skills to take advantage of that trust will be investigated and held to account for their actions."
The attorney for DeRose and MDC says they did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement.
"Whether the work was necessary or not is a matter of professional opinion," said Charlotte Attorney James Wyatt. "The conduct in question occurred over five years ago. It was aggressively investigated and addressed. Remedial actions were taken, including hiring a former and experienced dental board investigator as a full time member of the staff."
The Colorado Dental Examiners Board is investigating complaints from parents about some of DeRose's former clinics across the Denver area, including Smile High Dentistry.
Colorado parents claim the dentists force them to wait in the lobby while their children are treated inside the clinic, which is against Colorado dental rules.
Parents have also told 9Wants to Know that their children were restrained in papoose boards for long periods of time even though their children screamed, cried, wet themselves or vomited. Records from the Smile High Dentistry in Denver show toddler Tony Clark threw-up on himself, was "out of control" and "screamed through the whole appointment", but they continued to work on him in 2004. Dentists gave Tony eight root canals and eight silver crowns on his baby teeth during one visit.
"He couldn't hardly stand up, he was bleeding, his face was just, from so many tears, his shirt had throw-up all over it," said Tony's mother April Clark in Denver in 2004. "It was horrible, it was just horrible."
After the 9Wants to Know stories aired in 2004, the Colorado Medicaid office instituted new rules, limiting the number of procedures that can be performed in dental clinics in one visit. The Colorado Dental Examiners Board also clarified that dentists cannot force parents to stay in the waiting rooms while their children are being treated.
DeRose and Ballance will have to repay Medicaid $10.05 million in the settlement. The money will not be returned to the parents or the children affected in North Carolina.
Twenty two clinics co-owned by the DeRoses in 2002 nationwide collected more than $31 million from Medicaid. In Colorado alone, where they owned five clinics in 2002, the DeRoses collected more than $13.5 million of taxpayer money.
The dentists are not allowed to work in North Carolina today because they have been disciplined by the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners.
They are allowed work in Colorado, but no longer do so because both have retired.
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