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How much should the public be allowed to know about investigations?

Photo by Highways Agency, https://www.flickr.com/photos/highwaysagency/

A board may be investigating serious complaints about a licensee for years while the public is kept in the dark because the complaint file is “invisible,” an investigation by the Bakersfield Californian has found. In a July 2014 article on “Dental Dangers,” the newspaper reported that dentist Robert Tupac has had over 18 lawsuits filed against him citing problems with his work. Patients of Tupac’s have claimed bone loss, teeth that don’t fit properly, among other issues. The California Attorney General’s office, at the behest of the California Dental Board, has alleged Tupac’s dental practice was grossly negligent.

But what if you were a Californian resident in Tupac’s area and need a competent, trustworthy doctor? Is there a way to find out if a physician has had complaints levied against him/her or if a current investigation is ongoing? In practical terms – no, there isn’t. According to a July 19 report in The Bakersfield Californian, a potential patient searching for an adequate dentist would likely find nothing about any physician that has had complaints, penalties, or is under investigation. At least not without extremely difficult and time consuming research.

The California Dental Board has been trying to suspend or revoke Tupac’s license without success thus far, and until a punishment does or doesn’t happen doctors like Robert Tupac that have had dozens of allegations placed against them, are free to practice without the general public’s having any idea what they are accused of. The Dental Board website contains no reference to Tupac’s many civil suits and malpractice allegations on his license profile or anywhere on the Dental Board website. The Dental Board also will not disclose how many complaints patients have made against Tupac (or any other dentist).

The Dental Board’s accusations, which include that Tupac failed to appropriately plan for patients’ care and illegally altered their treatment records, aims to revoke or suspend his dental license.

The Dental Board’s enforcement chief, Kim Trefry, said in the “Dental Dangers” report that the Board only publishes notices of civil malpractice judgments “reported to us after adjudication or arbitration,” which does not include settlements reached outside court. Only judgment awards of more than $30,000 are allowed to be disclosed with a dentist’s license.

When the board does disclose information about malpractice awards along with a dentist’s license, it’s limited to cases where judgment awards are more than $30,000, or more than $3,000 if a dentist doesn’t have professional liability insurance.

Todd Osbourne, a Santa Cruz attorney who has represented several patients in lawsuits against Tupac, stated in the report that,” If you’re looking at it from the standpoint of a consumer, it’s hard to get information about what really transpired in any (malpractice) cases.” Cruz also inserted that negligent doctors are essentially buying “peace of mind” in settling lawsuits (settlements are not disclosed to the public) since the doctor not only keeps their license almost all the time, but is able to keep the public in the dark.