Written by The Associated Press Wednesday, 05 January 2011 11:35
A New York-based dental chain unexpectedly shut down operations nationwide because of cash-flow problems, leaving patients without access to their records and offices unreachable by phone or computer.
Patients reported going to Allcare Dental & Dentures offices for scheduled appointments beginning Monday only to find the doors closed in states including New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and New Hampshire.
Gabe Williams of Dayton, Ohio, said he paid more than $3,000 in advance for dental work but was locked out Monday when he showed up for an appointment that the company had rescheduled from Dec. 30.
After prepaying $750, Lynn Berger found herself in the same situation in Nashua, N.H. Allcare had called in mid-December to move a Dec. 27 appointment to Monday, saying the corporate office had decided to shut down during the holidays.
“They knew they were closing when they were rescheduling,” she said Tuesday.
Hundreds of employees, meanwhile, wondered whether they would get paid for hours already worked and whether bonuses promised before Christmas would ever arrive.
“Nobody has any answers to anything. Everybody’s lost their job so nobody can help you with anything,” said Tara Mongold, who worked at the company’s call center in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence for more than three years.
The company operated 52 locations and employed 772 people in 15 states a year ago, the New York attorney general’s office said. An employee said closings and consolidations since then had brought the number to about 38 offices at the time of the shutdown.
Allcare executives did not respond to phone messages, and the company’s primary Web site was down.
Notices posted on office doors referred patients to an alternate Web site, which explained that Allcare could not notify patients of the closing in advance because its phone system and computer network had been abruptly shut down by its network provider.
Patients with dental emergencies were advised to call 911. Patient records and unfinished dental work were being transferred to other dentists, the Web site said.
A notice from Allcare to the New Hampshire Board of Dental Examiners dated Sunday said “the entire company has run out of money, thus rendering it unable to open for business as usual effective Monday.”
On the web posting for consumers, the company said its plans to address financial problems by closing underperforming offices while raising capital from an equity group had fallen through, and that attempts to obtain bridge financing also had failed.
“There are no plans at this time to reopen the offices,” the posting said. “We want to assure you that this sudden closing situation was not our intent; it was due to circumstances beyond our control that arose very quickly.”
Allcare employees said they’d been put on two-week furloughs to save money in mid-December. Mongold said workers returned to the home office Dec. 27 and worked a full day but were sent home the following morning because the power was out.
“We knew something was going on,” Mongold said. “Then on New Year’s Eve they gave us a call and said the office was closing.”
She expressed little hope of collecting a $400 bonus she said was owed to her.
Incorporated in 2001, Allcare, at one time, had 58 locations.
The New York State Education Department, the dental licensing agency, lists no disciplinary action against Allcare or its principal, Robert Bates of Clarence, a department spokesman said.
Neither Bates nor Chief Executive Officer David Pennington returned calls Tuesday.
In an April 2009 agreement with Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, Allcare agreed to pay $135,000 to settle consumer complaints about deceptive advertising and financing information. Allcare said it disagreed with the claims but settled in the interest of patient satisfaction.
In August, the company was among several healthcare providers that received subpoenas from then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as part of an investigation into high-interest credit cards offered by providers to finance procedures not covered by insurance. It was unknown Tuesday what, if any, effect, the ongoing probe had on Allcare’s business. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said it was aware of the shutdown and was looking into it.
“I know companies close down all the time, but I don’t want the patient factor to be lost,” said Williams in Dayton, who sent a complaint with Ohio’s attorney general. “People should be aware of the impact on individuals.”