Valley News

Actions

ABC15 Investigators expose hundreds of ‘hidden' discipline files for Arizona dentists

Posted: 6:49 PM, Mar 09, 2015
Updated: 2016-09-22 21:58:46Z

Overview:  The Arizona Board of Dental Examiners has taken action against hundreds of dentists. But the ABC15 Investigators discovered the vast majority of board actions are classified as “non-discipline” and are essentially hidden from the public. Our investigation also uncovered dentists practicing in Arizona who have lost their licenses in other states, criminal backgrounds, drug offenses and sex crime arrests. This report is part one of our investigation into Arizona's dental board.

Linda Holt will never forget the pain.

“It was just grinding, grueling, horrific pain that would just not go away,” she said.

After going to get implants and dentures, Holt said her dentist told her there were complications. She walked out without any bottom teeth.

Days later, her stitches would pop out, exposing the bone.

 “They guaranteed me I would have a temporary denture. I wouldn’t be without teeth,” Holt said. “All I could do was take four Advil every few hours, cry and sleep.

“I was looking for a bullet. It was that bad.”

Holt’s dentist was Dr. Glenn Featherman.

If you check Featherman’s profile on the Arizona Board of Dental Examiner’s website, nothing’s filed under disciplinary action – a clean record.

But what you don’t see is that a few months before seeing Holt, Dr. Featherman had issues with another patient’s implants and dentures.

The Arizona Board of Dental Examiners took action , finding “the implants Dr. Featherman placed have a 10-15 degree divergence, and are not in a good position to support and overdenture.”

Dr. Featherman was ordered to get six hours of continuing education in “implant treatment planning.”

So why isn’t that listed on the website for the public to see?

It’s because the board gave him something called a “non-disciplinary” action.  By law, Arizona doesn’t have to post those on its website.

“The public needs to know,” Holt said. “We have a right to know.”

‘HIDDEN DISCIPLINE’

Non-disciplinary actions, which are purged after five years, are supposed to be used to address minor violations and issues.

But in 2014, state auditors questioned if the dental board is using them too often, allowing dental professionals to get off easy.

The ABC15 Investigators filed a public records request for every dental board action in the past five years and reviewed thousands of pages of documents.

CHECK YOUR DENTIST: ABC15 has posted a list of every Arizona dental professional who has received a disciplinary or non-disciplinary action from 2010 to 2014.

From 2010 through 2014, there were 282 non-disciplinary actions compared to just 120 disciplinary.

That means, 70 percent of board actions are essentially hidden from the public – unless you know the actions exist and request them in writing.

RELATED: Is it “good news” that non-disciplinary actions are hidden and then destroyed? Arizona’s dental board thinks so.

“Most people aren’t aware of that. Probably most lawyers aren’t aware of that,” said Jeff Pyburn, an attorney with the firm Gallagher & Kennedy who handles medical and dental malpractice cases.

“It’s unfair to the public to hide that information from them,” he said. “It should be easily accessible on the website.”

In many cases, patients and attorneys believe that complaints have been minimized and key facts or violations are being omitted in non-disciplinary actions.

Among the 282 non-disciplinary files, we found:

There also many non-disciplinary actions that address quality of care issues.

“It appears the board is inconsistent if they do a disciplinary or non-disciplinary action,” Pyburn said. “I’m not sure the punishment that gets meted out in all cases is consistent with common sense.”

Linda Holt also filed a complaint against Dr. Featherman.

The board’s finding in her case: a non-disciplinary consent agreement .

But the board’s action for Holt’s complaint doesn’t document what happened with the dental work. It only cites Dr. Featherman for not keeping proper records.  

“I’m angry,” said Holt, who’s since filed a lawsuit. “I want (the dental board) to be held accountable for their non-disciplinary action. That’s wrong. I hope they can sleep at night.”

CRIMINAL PASTS

There’s more that Arizona’s dental board knew about Dr. Featherman that Linda Holt did not.

He’s also a convicted felon.

For years while practicing in Pennsylvania, Dr. Featherman had patients and staff fill painkiller prescriptions for him to fuel a drug addiction, records show.

In 2013, he pled guilty to 86 counts.

READ THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT

After the conviction, Pennsylvania’s dental board suspended Dr. Featherman’s license for 10 years. Arizona’s board did nothing.

There’s more.

In the same office as Dr. Featherman, Linda saw another dentist to try and finish the work started by Dr. Featherman. 

His name was Dr. Thomas Endicott. He’s also a felon.

Before coming to Arizona, Endicott lost his license in Michigan and Illinois. He’s been convicted of fraud, unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and criminal sexual conduct, records show .

His employees also sued him for sexual harassment .

“Criminal sexual conduct? Controlled substance? And Arizona is allowing him to put his fingers in my mouth? Oh, shame on Arizona,” Holt said.

GETTING ANSWERS

ABC15 requested an interview with Elaine Hugunin, executive director of the Arizona Board of Dental Examiners.

At first, she agreed but then canceled just hours later.  

Hugunin then said she would only answer questions in writing.  After sending her questions, Hugunin responded to nearly every question with a version of the same two answers:

  • “The Board collectively with its clinical expertise rendered a decision based on the information.”
  • “(The) matter was heard by the Board at a meeting and the respective minutes memorialize the Board’s decisions.”

She also added the following response: “Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions.  The Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners which is composed of 6 clinical dentists, 2 clinical dental hygienists, a business entity representative and 2 public members takes its mission to protect the public very seriously and investigates complaints to the fullest extent.  The Board adheres to all open meeting laws, public records laws and provides statutorily required information on its website.”

We tried following up with Hugunin before the dental board’s meeting on February 6.

She refused to answer our questions.

ABC15 also handed out letters to each board member present at the meeting, inviting them to comment for our stories. None have responded.

Dr. Featherman declined an interview request.  He forwarded us to his attorney who sent a statement.

READ DR. FEATHERMAN’S ENTIRE STATEMENT

The statement said Featherman can’t discuss Linda Holt’s complaint because the matter is now part of a lawsuit. It continued, “Dr. Featherman is an excellent dentist who should be praised for working through a drug problem.”

ABC15 also spoke to Dr. Endicott on the phone.

“I believe all men should have a second chance,” he said. “We as a human race have a responsibility to forgive.”

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com .

***In Arizona, dentists are one of very few medical and health professionals not required to undergo a background check before getting a license. In part two of ABC15’s investigation, we explore the gaps in Arizona’s regulation. It airs Tuesday on ABC15 News at 6 p.m.***