A Conover dentist previously charged with Medicaid fraud closed her clinic doors and left Catawba County.
Dr. Letitia Ballance operated Carolina West Dental in Conover. In a letter dated April 11, Ballance informed her patients she was no longer going to operate in Catawba County after April 15. In the letter, Ballance said the business' closing is "a result of the continued struggling economy."
Ballance did not return phone calls to The O-N-E seeking comment.
However, Ballance's dental clinic closing brings satisfaction to at least one county resident.
Robert Fisher took his 6-year-old son, Elijah, to see Ballance on Nov. 25, but didn't go back after he suspected she was trying to commit Medicaid fraud.
Fisher said Ballance told him Elijah had three molars that needed stainless steel crowns and a cavity that needed a filling, which contradicted Elijah's previous dental reports.
About two weeks prior to Fisher's appointment with Ballance, Elijah received a free screening at his school. Fisher received word that his son had a cavity, and the tooth needed to be filled.
Fisher said that diagnosis was echoed in October at a dental clinic in Mountain View. Fisher said he contacted Ballance's office for an appointment because her clinic was closer to his home. He expected to receive the same dental reports for Elijah, but that was not the case.
Fisher told The O-N-E in a Jan. 26 article that he researched Ballance's background, where he discovered she was previously charged with Medicaid fraud and allegations of unnecessary medical procedures on patients.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced in April 2008 that it reached a settlement with Medicaid Dental Center (MDC), which was a chain of privately owned dental clinics in North Carolina known as Smile Starters and Carolina Dental Center.
Ballance and Dr. Michael A. DeRose operated practices within MDC, according to the USDOJ.
According to an April 2008 USDOJ press release, Ballance and DeRose were liable under the False Claims Act for submitting claims for reimbursement from performing unnecessary pulpotomies on their patients. A pulpotomy is necessary in a pediatric patient when a tooth infection spreads into the pulp chamber of the tooth, requiring the pulp's removal. This procedure is often called a "baby root canal."
Within the settlement, MDC agreed to pay more than $10 million to resolve false or fraudulent payment claims to the North Carolina Medicaid program for dental services performed on children.
According to a 2005 consent order with the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners, Ballance agreed not to contest allegations of excessive treatment on seven patients. Although Ballance agreed not to contest the allegations, that doesn't mean she admitted guilt in the incidents.
As part of the consent order, which Ballance signed Dec. 8, 2005, Ballance agreed to surrender her license to the N.C. dental board on or before Dec. 9, 2005.
The order allowed Ballance's license to be restored after three years as long as she followed conditions, which included:
-Compliance with all Medicaid regulations;
-Modification of consent forms to ensure a child's parent or guardian understands the extent of medical procedures;
-Providing the N.C. dental board with any requested patient records.
After receiving the letter about Carolina West Dental in Conover closing, Fisher said he's glad Ballance is out of the community.
"I was really pleased to find out," Fisher said. "I'm happy to hear she's not going to be around here anymore."
Fisher said he never returned to Ballance's dental clinic and is unaware if other patients were "taken advantage of" by Ballance.
"I didn't realize how pervasive this kind of scam is," Fisher said.
"It's predatory behavior by these dentists that are funded by Medicaid.
Now that I know that, I definitely have to investigate any kind of business I take my son to."
Fisher said Elijah went to another area dentist in December who said the child had one cavity that needed to be filled and a smaller cavity that could be treated without a filling.
The O-N-E called Carolina West Dental in Waynesville and asked to speak with Dr. Letitia Ballance. A receptionist said Ballance was not available for comment. Ballance is listed as a dentist for this clinic, according to Google.com.
In Ballance's letter to patients, she recommended two area dentists who can assist Medicaid patients. Dr. Michael Wimberly is one of the listed dentists, and he said it's ethical for dentists to locate places for patients to go when an office closes.
"I gave my name as a possible place to get treatment, so patients are not just left without anywhere to go," Wimberly said. "I had no business dealings with (Ballance)."