Dental Care Provider Threatens Parents With State Intervention If They Don't Set Up Appointments For Their Kids

from the no-carrots-here,-buddy,-just-a-big-borrowed-stick dept

A Pennsylvania dentist clinic has manage to destroy its reputation with a tactic it thought might actually drum up some business. Letters sent to parents by Smiles 4 Keeps suggested the dental clinic would get law enforcement involved if the company didn’t see an uptick in new appointments.

The letter, posted here by Twitter user @_NotYourMom, makes it clear the Smiles 4 Keep has interpreted Pennsylvania’s child abuse reporting statutes to mean it can report parents to state authorities for not partaking of the clinic’s services often enough.

Here are the relevant parts of the heavy-handed threats Smiles 4 Keeps has been sending to parents.

According to law, failure to bring your child for dental care is considered neglect. Pennsylvania Act 31 states that health care providers must report your failure to bring your child to the dentist for evaluation and care… Smiles 4 Keeps has not report [sic] your child’s outstanding dental treatment, as of yet.

[…]

To keep your child as healthy as possible and avoid a report to state authorities, please call Smiles 4 Keeps immediately to schedule a treatment appointment within the next 30 days.

First off, the statute cited only requires entities designated by the state as “mandatory reporters” of child abuse (which includes a very long list of public and private entities) to take continuing education classes on identifying and reporting child abuse. It does not require a dental clinic to turn parents in for not keeping their kids on a tight preventative maintenance schedule. There’s a whole lot of distance between a few missed dental appointments to things the state considered to be possible evidence of neglect or abuse.

This letter is thuggery that hopes to prey on the ignorant. It threatens parents with being reported to the state as child abusers, even though the clinic has nothing more than a few missed checkups to offer as evidence. Abusing a child abuse law to increase office visits is an abhorrent tactic, one that indicates the clinic cares more about steady income than actually looking out for abused children.

If this bogus reporting does start occurring, it will be a tremendous burden on parents. It will likely have zero negative effect on the clinic, outside of its swift reputational decline. The mandated reporting law immunizes reporting entities from civil or criminal penalties. But the reporting must be done in good faith to qualify for this immunity, and Smiles 4 Keep’s threats are definitely a detriment to any good faith claims it might try to raise. It could certainly be argued this letter shows any reporting of parents by this clinic was done to increase office visits (and income), rather than because employees actually witnessed signs of abuse.

Smiles 4 Keeps has gone mostly silent since its letters began making the rounds on social media. It has only offered a couple of contradictory comments. The first comment basically says that Smiles 4 Keeps is right and everyone else is wrong.

No one at the local dentists’ offices would agree to talk on camera but an email from a corporate spokesperson writes, “It’s been a tough week” and that the letter has been, “grossly misinterpreted.”

The second says the letter that was “grossly misinterpreted” by recipients and commenters will be rewritten. Seems like it shouldn’t need to be overhauled if it’s just a matter of everyone reading the right words but drawing the wrong conclusions.

A Smiles 4 Keeps spokesperson says she does not know how many of these letters were sent but that it reported 17 cases of neglect last year. She adds that the company plans to rewrite the letter because of feedback from around the country.

Hopefully, the new letter will only say what letters from thousands of dental providers say: “Hey, you skipped a checkup. Can we set one up for you soon to get you back on track?” There’s no need to bring the law into it. Dental providers are required to report possible abuse, but this reporting requirement should not be used to blackmail people into spending more money at your place of business. Future letters should make zero references to the mandated reporting statute because it has zero relevance to the task at hand: informing customers of periodic checkups and cleanings and leaving it to the customers to set up appointments.

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Companies: smiles 4 keeps

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Comments on “Dental Care Provider Threatens Parents With State Intervention If They Don't Set Up Appointments For Their Kids”

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46 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Most states have their child abuse reporting system set up to screen out certain types of reports. A report saying “they haven’t brought their kid in this year” would result in a quick interrogation of “were they scheduled to? did they miss an appointment? is this missed appointment medically necessary due to the state of the kid’s dental health?”, and since the (honest) answers in this case are no, no, and no, the report would quickly be filed in the “not investigating” category. (Also, hotlines often have the ability to flag a reporter as malicious at a certain point.)

The real impact would be on the hotline’s call numbers; and the ability of that provider to report TRUE abuse, should they be flagged as malicious. (Of course, all this assumes the office would be honest in their reporting, and would not be reporting anonymously.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Trust the bureaucrats

I see your sarcasm.

It’s not sarcasm. It’s a motivational slogan.

Somewhere not in Kansas, it’d be painted in bright, strong red letters, on the wall of a modern, industrial factory — to cheer up all the workers and peasants.

It’s a cheerful motivational slogan.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Trust the bureaucrats

The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

It’s a problem of motivation, all right. Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime – so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob, I have eight different bosses right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

A parent isn’t required to report to a dental clinic that they’ve taken their business elsewhere or even that the child is deceased or living with a different parent or any other number of scenarios that could involve not making an appointment for the child at that specific clinic. So the clinic is basically saying that they know for certain that missed appointments are neglect instead one of a thousand other possibilities and they’re willing to fuck up someone’s life to make an extra buck.

By all means, if the kid comes in and shows signs of abuse, report that. Not coming in is not evidence. It’s lack of evidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because this is not about the child’s welfare. They’re not going to actually report someone, because if they did then they’d have to explain on what basis they believe the child is endangered. Which they can’t prove, because they haven’t even seen or spoken to the child or parent. The whole point of the threatening leater is to scare parents into taking children in to Smiles 4 Keeps, so that Smiles 4 Keeps makes more money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Unjustice for all

You overestimate the integrity of Child Welfare and the justice system.

All of the injustices that you have reported in law enforcement over the years can be multiplied by a thousand in Child Welfare. You just can’t see it because the courts are secret.

Under federal guidelines, Child Welfare funding and Juvenile Justice funding are directly proportional to case load. There is no such thing as punishing a false reporter. It has never happened.

What do you think CPS and the judge are going to do, give Medicaid back the money they unjustly collected from processing a false report?

CPS double dips – they collect federal money for indigents, and turn around and assess child support for a child in foster care after parental rights are terminated, up until the child is adopted. Then throw the parent in jail for over a year without a lawyer.

Granted, the majority are involved in substance abuse, but the cards are stacked against parents from day one, and there is no turning back, no matter how innocent the original complaint was.

This is no joking matter. Losing children to the system forever is no comparison to having a felony on your record from a plea bargain when you are innocent. It is a thousand times worse.

There are a number of websites on Fighting CPS.

ibettheywantit says:

Re: Unjustice for all

I would venture to guess that they actually encourage it to happen as much as possible. Padding the numbers so to speak.. They can proudly wave their numbers at the budget writers saying we need more .. more… more.. and then they can also lobby for more new laws saying the existing ones are not sufficient. The case loads show this.
Self feeding fire – left alone – it will consume all.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

Umm…isn’t this a bit of a problem for the Amish?

Two words: Religious exemption.

Actually, from what I’ve read on the net, the Amish are claimed to have healthier teeth on average than non-Amish, due to their healthier lifestyle. They will go to the dentist to have problem teeth pulled, or even to have all their teeth pulled and replace them with dentures. They consider it more practical and cost effective than spending a lifetime caring for teeth.

People think the Amish shun all facets of modern life, but they really just don’t believe in making their lives unnecessarily easier. They will use manual plows, but if a farmer gets old and can no longer plow his fields manually, he may be allowed, or even told to buy a tractor. Reportedly most Amish communities even have a telephone for use in emergencies.

DB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It might be more accurate to say that the Amish only accept technology that has unquestioned benefit. They keep their lives as simple as is reasonable, minimizing the intrusion of technology rather than rejecting it outright.

Their standard for simplicity is often misunderstood, but it usually makes sense if you have all of the details.

In the area I grew up, Amish households often had electricity and sometimes phone service. There was electricity to the barn, especially if it was a dairy farm. Electricity to the house was limited to a porch light and a nearby outdoor outlet. Any phone was mounted on the outside, in an outbuilding or in the barn. The view was that you needed electric lighting to safely work in a barn, but you didn’t need an electric toaster.

Anonymous Coward says:

beware the used-car salesman in a labcoat

People need to be aware that some dentists use high-pressure and deceptive sales tactics to increase their business, which is basically separating fools from their money.

It’s amazing that this dentist is still in business instead of in prison:

http://www.tampabay.com/news/scientology/scientology-benefits-when-miami-dentist-runs-up-patient-bills/1135436

McGyver (profile) says:

Well, I guess they got one of those letters warning you that you could be held liable for not having home repair insurance… Or that one that says your car’s warranty is about to expire (even though you sold it three years ago) and you need to buy their extended coverage or your regular auto insurance company will drop you, or any of a ton of other variants of this scammy shit.
Only instead of laughing or tearing up the letter, they decided to try their own version of it.
Nothing is being “grossly misinterpreted” here… It’s quite clear they hoped to cash in by threatening and misleading people.
A financial and legal asskicking is in order here.
The more this shit is excused or glossed over, the more entrenched and blatant it becomes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh, there's that pesky "good faith" again!

Minion states: "the reporting must be done in good faith to qualify for this immunity".

CDA Section 230 also requires "good faith" of serving The Public to obtain immunities: it’s not license for mega-corporations to control persons and opinions.

ON-topic because "good faith" is ALWAYS relevant.

And there’s no other interest to be found in this anomaly which has been covered everywhere else and is already over; it’s just Techdirt with usual late "me too".

That One Guy (profile) says:

'That's a nice family you got there...'

Hopefully, the new letter will only say what letters from thousands of dental providers say: "Hey, you skipped a checkup.

After a stunt like this hopefully there won’t be any more letters, as they’ll have gone completely under and closed down for good. Attempted extortion to drum up business should always result in no business at the very least.

Rekrul says:

Are they the only dental practice in the area?

I don’t have kids, but I would probably send them a letter saying;

“To whom it may concern,

Where I take my children for dental care is none of your business. For your information, I have been taking them to a different practice where they get better treatment than your clinic provides. Trying to blackmail me into bringing my children to your practice could be considered a crime and any more letters threatening me for not bringing my business to you will be turned over to the police and my lawyer. I will be sure to tell everyone I know with children to avoid your hostile and unethical service.”

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