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Dental patients scurry to get records, wrestle with Allcare shutdown

A national dental chain headquartered in Clarence, N.Y., that left patients in several states in the lurch by unexpectedly shutting down this week reopened some New Hampshire offices temporarily Thursday under government pressure. In Ohio, at least one care provider stepped in to fill the void.

About two dozen people were crowded into a waiting room in Nashua 15 minutes after the office opened, and a steady stream of patients came and went throughout the morning. Most of their frustration was muted, though tempers occasionally flared.

"I'm not leaving here without my stuff. I went through hell with this company," said Korryn Cristini, who drove nearly two hours from Claremont to get her records and was disgusted to hear that X-rays were being sent to other dentists' offices to be copied and wouldn't be available until late afternoon.

Citing cash-flow problems, Allcare Dental and Dentures closed offices in this week in at least eight states: New Hampshire, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee and West Virginia. After being contacted by the New Hampshire attorney general, the company opened its two locations there for one day Thursday so patients could retrieve records.

Allcare executives have not returned repeated calls seeking comment. Dr. Robert S. Bates is president of the company, and David Pennington is CEO.

In West Virginia, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Stonestreet said the state had received about 40 complaints about Allcare before the shutdown and was bracing for more calls. In New Hampshire, many customers complained of receiving shoddy treatment well before the company closed.

Cristini, 37, said she had to have all her teeth pulled in March because of an infection. The first two sets of dentures she got at Allcare were too big, she said, describing how a dentist jammed them into her mouth while she screamed.

Cristini, who estimated she paid $6,000 for her dentures and a three-year warranty, said she was out of work for four months.

"I'm a photographer. I work with children. I couldn't go back to work (with no teeth)," she said.

Incorporated in 2001, Allcare had 52 locations and employed 772 people in 15 states a year ago, but an employee said closings and consolidations since then had brought the number to about 38 offices at the time of the shutdown.

In Ohio, a network of 14 dental offices has agreed to take on patients from Allcare's Boardman, Ohio, practice. Kenneth Cooper, CEO of Dental Express Practice Management Services LLC and Refresh Management Services LLC, said the network will give free treatments to patients who had prepaid Allcare but had not finished treatment.

Dr. Matthew Messina, consumer adviser for the American Dental Association, said federal law requires Allcare to forward patient records to the dentists of the patients' choice or give them directly to patients.

For patients with incomplete care, he said, Allcare will have to complete the treatment or arrange for other dentists to do so.

"You can't abandon patients. You can't close up the doors and say to a patient, 'You're on your own' because that's abandonment, and that's illegal," the Cleveland dentist said.

He encouraged patients to file complaints with their state attorneys general and contact their state dental boards.

Pam Pray, 57, of Nashua, said she was on her third set of partial dentures from Allcare after the first set fell out and others broke in half. She was in the process of getting fitted for a new set when the company closed.

"I have $3,000 on a credit card, and my teeth are still falling out of my mouth," she said.

She said she had tried to call the company's corporate offices several times over the last two years and was never able to get through.

"Do I hope to get my money back? I do. Do I expect to? No," she said.

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