RI dental group files complaint against health department

The state Health Department conducted illegal raids of dental offices and violated patients' rights, according to a lawsuit filed by the Rhode Island Dental Association in Superior Court on Monday.

The 30-page complaint was filed against the Rhode Island Board of Examiners in Dentistry, an arm of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The RIDA claims Health Department staff conducted illegal and unconstitutional raids of dental offices, illegally issued subpoenas and violated patients' rights according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly called HIPPA.

The complaint also says the Health Department failed to establish rules for continuing education, inspection of dental offices and infection control.

"The trains are off the tracks," according to Bill Fischer, a spokesman for the Dental Association. "Right now is a scenario of dentists not understanding the rules because the Department of Health has not adopted proper procedures as they are required to by law."

A Health Department representative said the department does not comment on pending legal matters.

"This is a serious issue. We represent over 550 dentists in Rhode Island who want to be fully compliant with the law, who are not opposed to office inspections but they just want standards and procedures around them. So instead of playing, 'I got ya', they can comply with the law," Fischer said.

A dentist office on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick was mentioned in the complaint.

On the door, it says the office was closed for renovations but in the complaint filed Monday it said the Health Department shut the office down on April 12 after two inspections that the RIDA claims were done improperly. The RIDA says during the first inspection on April 5, an oral surgeon was interrupted during surgery.

At a different office, the RIDA says Health Department staff took patient records in violation of HIPAA laws.

Fischer said some dentists have tried to speak out, but have faced retaliation.

"It's creating a lot of havoc that's unnecessary, creating a lot of misinformation for the consumer and maligning the reputation of hardworking dentists," he said.

The RIDA said it has been in talks with the Health Department since January to rectify the issues.