A pediatric dentist in Florida is being accused of abusing children and performing unnecessary, painful procedures on them in order to collect millions of dollars in Medicaid payments. Dr. Howard Schneider has been practicing in Jacksonville for 40 years and is the only dentist who accepts Medicaid in the area. The fallout from the allegations is shedding light on an even bigger problem: there aren’t enough pediatric dentists for kids on Medicaid in the state of Florida. This problem forces parents to go to whomever is available and hope for the best.
What is Schneider accused of doing?
Brandi Motley, said she brought her daughter into his practice to have one tooth pulled, but when her 6-year-old daughter Briel emerged three hours later she was bloody, swollen, and missing seven teeth:
The nurse lady comes and gets me and she said there had been an incident. I walk back through the doors and turn to the right and there she is, sitting with blood all over her. Her face was all swollen and the lady said they had her on the pappoose board and they stepped out for a second to get something, and they came back in and she was face-first on the floor.
Brandi rushed her daughter to the emergency room where she called the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department and Department of Children and Families to report what happened to her daughter. She is now pursuing a medical malpractice suit against the doctor. Her malpractice suit is separate from the class-action lawsuit filed by other parents.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, Schneider is accused of running a “house of horrors.” Plaintiffs in the suit allege that he preys on low-income, uneducated parents and performing unnecessary procedures in order to collect money from Medicaid. In the last five years, the doctor has received almost $4 million in Medicaid reimbursements.
Although he has never been charged with a crime, allegations of his abuse span decades. In 2001 and 2013 the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department was called to his office after parents complained he was abusing their children. In 1995, two malpractice suits were filed against him; one was dismissed but in the other, where parents say he put thirteen crowns in the mouth of their 3-year-old, he paid a settlement to the family.
On Facebook, many victims are coming forward to tell their stories as well. One woman says that she went in for a filling and cap when she was five years old and when she left his office she had twenty-two fillings and caps. Another woman claims that he pulled seven of her teeth for no reason. Here are some of the things the lawsuit alleges he has done to kids:
• “Choking children to the point of unconsciousness rather than using appropriate anesthetic prior to doing tooth extractions…”
• “Performing non-medically necessary dental procedures” without anesthetic and “fraudulently” billing Medicaid for them
• “Using fear and threats to scare and thereby silence his victims, including threats not limited to saying things like ‘Your mom will die’ if you tell her what happened…”
Not everyone agrees with the lawsuit.
Last month I teamed up with another liberal blogger, Justin Rosario, and held a fundraiser to help a single mom with two autistic children raise money for dental work one of her sons needed. The mother, Autumn, lives in Jacksonville and her children have been longtime patients of Dr. Schneider. When we met our fundraising goal, she was able to set up an appointment with him to get her son’s two front teeth crowned. Unfortunately, her appointment was canceled because of all of this trouble.
Autumn said her boys have been going to Schneider’s practice for years and she has never had any problems with the way her kids were treated. As I said, both of her boys have Autism and she says he worked well with them.
As a result of the allegations, she is now being forced to find another dentist to perform her son’s dental work and after more than a week of searching has still not been able to find anyone. That brings us to the larger problem Florida Medicaid patients are dealing with: parents have very few options.
Florida is desperately in need of Medicaid dentists.
Two years ago my son was on Florida Medicaid and needed to have a crown put on a hypocalcified adult molar. I called around and found out that only one dentist in my county, which has over 340,000 residents, accepted Medicaid patients. ONE. That one doctor had horrible reviews and a wait time that was roughly six months. Finally, out of sheer frustration, I took money from our rent and took him to a non-Medicaid dentist. I was told that it would cost about $1500.00 to get the work done and clearly I didn’t have that kind of money. The dentist told me about another Medicaid dentist in St. Petersburg about 50 miles away and I made an appointment with him.
I was lucky that I had a vehicle and I could make the 45 minute trip to the dentist in another city, but not everyone has that option. For parents who do not have transportation, they are stuck waiting months and months to get their kids into see a dentist. How fair is that?
A 2013 report by Pew Children’s Dental Campaign ranked Florida as the worst state for getting poor children dental care in the United States. According to the report, nearly three-fourths of the children on Medicaid do not get to the dentist often enough. Poor dental care for low-income children in the state has increased school absences and increased emergency room visits.
Frank Catalanotto, professor and chairman of the Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Florida College of Dentistry (that was a mouthful…no pun intended) explained what the main problem is:
Catalanotto and others contend the main problem is that only 15 percent of Florida dentists accept Medicaid patients — chiefly because of the state’s exceptionally low Medicaid reimbursement rates. Some dentists complain they would actually lose money by treating Medicaid patients. The other issue, though, is the labyrinth of red tape awaiting dentists who serve Medicaid patients, Catalanotto said. “It takes a long time, there are a lot of forms to fill out, and then you wait and wait and wait.
I don’t know if Schneider is a sadist who enjoys abusing little kids, but I do know that parents are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. Can you imagine what it must be like, feeling like your child is being tortured at the dentist and literally having no other options? Or being stuck in the position Autumn is in and desperately needing dental work done on your autistic child but not being able to because of controversy swirling around the only provider in town?
How sick is it that this is the “best country on earth” but our most vulnerable children are put through this?
Watch CNN’s report on Schneider below:
Featured image via Inquisitr