Rochester, N.Y. - “He had bruising around his wrists- the nights afterward he would wake up screaming.”
Dentists tying toddlers down to perform baby root canals. Elizabeth Lorraine says it happened to her son Shilo when he was almost two years old. A 13WHAM News Investigation in 2008 uncovered dozens of similar stories about Small Smiles in Irondequoit.
Now the clinic may close, if negotiations with a local buyer aren’t completed by the end of this month. The parent company of Small Smiles has also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for all 67 clinics in 22 states.
According to court documents if the company cannot conclude a sale, “their financial limitations could lead to an orderly but quick shut down of all operations."
The filing cites “financial strain” due to lawsuits and fines following investigations into the practices of restraining young patients, and performing dental work that was not required.
“They used a thing called a papoose board,” says parent Elizabeth Lorraine. “His hands were held down and pinned. From the bruising I think someone also held down his legs.”
Many of the parents interviewed by 13WHAM News say they were prevented from being in dental rooms with their children and not asked or told about the restraints. Small Smiles catered to low income children and accepted Medicaid. Four out of five dentists do not.
In 2008, the director of the Rochester Small Smiles was arrested and convicted of Medicaid fraud. Douglas Gardner says the restraints were all about money. “The Small Smiles way of taking care of children was to maximize every dollar that they can during that patient visit at all cost.”
New York State later fined the parent company a record $1.2 million dollars. A federal investigation resulted in a $42 million dollar fine. Many other states are investigating and dozens of lawsuits have been filed.
A spokesman for Small Smiles says the clinic here has been severed from the bankruptcy involving other locations because negotiations are under way with “a local buyer.” If the deal is not complete by the end of March, the clinic here will close.
“A child should never know that kind of fear and I want their office closed,” says Elizabeth Lorraine. She is one of ten Rochester families who are suing the company. If it goes bankrupt, they may never be compensated.
“If we never see a dime? That’s fine with us,” says Lorraine.