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.