Dentists in Florida have a history of being strong advocates for patient health and safety, including the Florida Dental Association (FDA), the Florida Board of Dentistry (FBoD), and individual doctors.
“Florida’s guidelines for permitting the use of anesthesia and sedation are some of the strictest in the country. The Florida Dental Association and its members are committed to upholding the highest standards of patient safety and quality of care, and the safety of our patients is our greatest priority,” said Rudy Liddell, DMD, president of the FDA.
“The FDA strongly supports educating consumers about talking to their dentist before any potential treatment and has worked throughout the state to share this message, including providing recommended questions for consumers to ask before undergoing a dental procedure,” said Liddell.
Membership in the FDA and ADA is predicated upon members agreeing to comply with the ADA’s Principles of Ethics & Code of Professional Conduct. Under Section 2 of Nonmaleficence, it says, “This principle expresses the concept that professionals have a duty to protect the patient from harm. Under this principle, the dentist’s primary obligations include keeping knowledge and skills current, knowing one’s own limitations and when to refer to a specialist or other professional, and knowing when and under what circumstances delegation of patient care to auxiliaries is appropriate.”
The dental profession is not some insular, self-serving, mutual protection society, as in an “old boys’ club.” Dentistry’s primary responsibility is to serve the public interest.
“The dental profession holds a special position of trust within society. As a consequence, society affords the profession certain privileges that are not available to members of the public-at-large. In return, the profession makes a commitment to society that its members will adhere to high ethical standards of conduct,” the ADA continues in its Principles of Ethics & Code of Professional Conduct.
By contrast, the Florida Department of Health (FDoH) seemingly operates under far different constructs when applied to oral healthcare for its citizens.
Dr. Veronica Anne Thompson
In a formal administrative complaint in 2014, the FBoD alleged that Veronica Anne Thompson, DDS, failed to meet standards of care with multiple violations that resulted in a sedation patient’s wrongful death. Several years earlier, Thompson signed another settlement agreement related to alleged malpractice in a different case.
The FBoD has stood fast in demanding revocation of Thompson’s dental license in the interest of public safety. By contrast, the FDoH has offered compromise options rejected by the FBoD in which Thompson would face potential fines and additional education but be allowed to retain her dental license. This back and forth has been going for five and a half years.
The parents of the deceased, 39-year-old special needs dental patient are frustrated that state law prevents them from bringing a wrongful death legal action against Thompson. Malpractice resulting in wrongful death or injury of an adult child is one claim that Florida courts will dismiss. Under Florida Statute 768.21(8), “damages shall not be recoverable by parents of an adult child with respect to claims for medical negligence.”
“This was never about the money,” said the patient’s mother, Maureen Myers. “This was never about anything but having her license taken away so that she could not perform or do anything to another individual or to another family.”
An attorney for the FDoH wanted to avoid litigation against Thompson because, in his words, it’s “risky and expensive.” This is in direct juxtaposition to dental regulators who demand an allegedly seriously dangerous doctor be removed from practice for public safety. Dental regulators allege Thompson’s actions go far beyond simple negligence and into criminal or gross negligence. The board repeatedly voted in favor of license revocation. A trial on license revocation has been scheduled.
Interestingly, Thompson holds influence and power in Florida dentistry. In 2008, Heartland Dental awarded Thompson membership in the Heartland Dental Care President’s Club. She was recognized at a corporate function and ceremony in Riviera Maya, Mexico, for “accomplishments, contributions to her community and commitment to providing dental care to her patients.”
In an earlier lawsuit that gained national attention in the dental community, Thompson was named as a co-defendant along with Heartland Dental by plaintiff Dr. Herbert Salisbury. The lawsuit is today inactive. Thompson was cited because she holds ownership in the professional association that Heartland Dental operates under in Florida.
Dr. Howard S. Schneider
Former Jacksonville pediatric dentist Howard S. Schneider, DDS, allegedly abused many dozens of Medicaid dental patients over many years. Eventually, Schneider faced criminal charges for Medicaid fraud. Those charges were dropped in 2018 when Schneider was found incompetent to stand trial because of his “advanced age and deteriorating mental condition.” He also faced multiple civil lawsuits.
Immediately subsequent to dismissal of criminal charges against Schneider, because of mental incompetence, Florida citizens held a protest rally to express their indignation at a system that failed to protect vulnerable children.
Schneider surrendered his dental license effective May 22, 2015. However, prior to that time, the FDoH apparently enabled Schneider’s alleged abuse of children and Medicaid fraud. It seemingly only acted once Schneider became a visible problem and potential embarrassment in the media.
A former pediatric dentist retained by the FDoH explainedhow she repeatedly advised her superiors of Schneider’s malfeasance in clinical practice. She stressed to department heads why Schneider should be de-credentialed as a Florida Medicaid provider. Her superiors disagreed and advised their dental oversight professional to simply “get along with Schneider and take him out to lunch.” The pediatric dentist advisor declined these orders from her superiors, and she was eventually forced out of her position at the FDoH over this specific issue.
Dr. Michael Addair Tarver
Michael Addair Tarver, DMD, signed a settlement agreement with the FBoD on October 8, 2013. An initial complaint contended that Tarver altered patient records after adverse incidences with pediatric dental patients and sedation services.
Allegedly, after one four-year-old patient sedated with midazolam had stopped breathing and was resuscitated via naloxone and CPR, Tarver “instructed staff members to make no mention of the incident and admonished them that he would terminate and sue any staff member who mentioned the incident. No one informed Patient’s parents that Patient had stopped breathing and had been resuscitated.” Tarver recorded the incident in the patient’s record as a period of “brief apnea.”
On another formal alleged incident with a pediatric patient, according to court records, “Patient’s mother verbally consented to local anesthesia only. Tarver placed Patient under conscious sedation for the procedure. At the conclusion of the procedure, Patient had lacerations on her cheek and inside her mouth. Patient also had bruises on her neck and shoulders and had urinated on herself.”
The settlement with the FBoD only required Tarver take additional educational courses in ethics and record keeping. His record keeping was also to be monitored for one year. He was additionally subjected to a fine.
Earlier police reports filed by parents of child patients resulted in an immediate emergency suspension of Tarver’s dental license pending investigation. At a later hearing of the FBoD, doctor members were highly critical of Tarver’s clinical practice. They were concerned that seeing 120 patients per day was excessive, with approximately half under sedation.
Tarver claimed he saw so many patients because they were under the Medicaid program, and his office was the only local clinic accepting dental Medicaid patients. (That claim was disputed.) Dental Board members claimed Tarver sacrificed safety for a profit by seeing large numbers of patients each day and neglecting to spend adequate time with many of them.
Another problematic matter involved Tarver not allowing parents to accompany children into treatment rooms based on his interpretation of recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). In reality, the AAPD encourages parents to accompany their children in most situations.
Tarver’s attorney alleged that the Medicaid and child abuse claims were the result of disgruntled employees. Tarver also initiated an investigation into the FDoH investigator. Shortcomings in the state investigator’s professional and personal history seemingly mitigated the case against Tarver. Significantly, the investigator was not directly supervised by the Dental Board. The investigator’s past seriously compromised any potential actions against Tarver by the FBoD.
Tarver claimed his “heart is broken” over the entire matter and that he soon might leave dentistry. He didn’t. He simply relocated from Ocala to Clermont, Florida.
Thomas P. Floyd, DMD
Thomas P. Floyd, DMD, a West Palm Beach pediatric dentist, was apparently a champion for disadvantaged children. He served as president of the FDA from 1997 to 1998. He was active on committees involving indigent care and Medicaid issues, and he lectured nationally on such critical topics. The reality under the surface was evidently much more disturbing.
Former employees reported Floyd to local police for allegedly physically abusing children as early as 2001. Investigations only began in 2004. His final arrest eventually came in 2012. The FDoH filed no complaint against Floyd until his arrest in September of 2012. FDoH investigations are held confidential. It’s not possible to determine why the FDoH waited a full eight years to file its complaint, at which time Floyd’s dental license was initially suspended.
Floyd agreed to a settlement agreement on the criminal case in which he admitted no wrong-doing. He will serve no jail time, he accepted five years of probation, and he agreed to surrender his dental license.
The FBoD reviewed allegations against Floyd at its August 2013 General Business Meeting. Complaints from the FDoH hadn’t reached the FBoD until 2012.
At its August 2013 meeting, the FBoD determined, “An amended four count administrative complaint filed January 22, 2013 alleged violation of s. 466.028((1)(t), F.S., by yelling at patient, stuffing a bib in patient’s mouth, pulling patient’s head back by the hair and ignoring cries of pain; and three counts of violation of s. 466.028(1)(x), F.S., by failing to administer additional local anesthetic or stopping the procedure in response to patient’s cries that she was in pain; by yelling at patient, stuffing a bib in patient’s mouth, pulling patient’s head back by the hair and ignoring cries of pain; and by failing to meet minimum prevailing standards of performance and diagnosis in treating patient’s teeth #5 and #1.”
The dental board’s recommendation was that probable cause was established and penalty of license revocation be imposed. The board unanimously accepted Floyd’s voluntary surrender of his dental license.
On another formal complaint against Floyd, “An amended thirteen count administrative complaint filed January 22, 2013 alleged violation of s. 466.028(1)(x), (n),(l),(t),(m),(bb),(mm),(z),(u), F.S. of failure to meet minimum standards, performing treatment on wrong patient, performing medically unnecessary procedures, failure to obtain parental consent, unsanitary conditions, failure to follow proper sterilization and disinfection procedures.”
Again, the board unanimously voted for licensure revocation. The board accepted Floyd’s voluntary relinquishment of his dental license.
Details of extensive patient abuses inflicted by Floyd over many years are beyond troubling. One is left to wonder why the FDoH sat on such distressing complaints from patients and staff for all those years before taking any action. Obviously by contrast, the FBoD was willing and able to act in the public interest in a more timely manner.
Dentistry in Florida has taken a high road in policing fellow colleagues. The public welfare and safety have repeatedly been placed to the fore. Positive examples come from the FBoD, the FDA, and individual doctors. All dentists, even those with seemingly outstanding credentials, reputations, and esteemed positions, are not above critical examination. The public interest must always be placed first.
Unfortunately, unelected bureaucrats, who retain their governmental regulatory positions through both Democratic and Republican administrations, often seem inept, unmotivated, and/or corrupt. This absolutely includes the FDoH. These problematic authorities need to move out of government service.
Dentistry is taking an unfair beating from the public perspective and media due to governmental regulatory bungling. State administrative hacks must be publicly outed. State governors must step up and eliminate them. If not, governors need to be held to account. Citizens of Florida and every state deserve no less.
Dr. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and malpractice legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review Committee and serves as a state dental association member to its house of delegates. He extensively writes and lectures on related matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or smilesofsantafe.com.