Health

Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 11:00 PM

Tupac dental colleague says patients seemed at risk

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian government editor cbedell@bakersfield.com

LOS ANGELES -- A longtime Bakersfield dentist testified Tuesday that he took "no pleasure" in reporting onetime friend Dr. Robert Tupac to the California Dental Board for alleged negligence, but felt duty-bound to do so because "patients' welfare was being harmed."

Then, under polite grilling by Tupac's attorney, the dentist, Robert Reed, acknowledged he had only seen two of the seven patients he named in his dental board complaints as having had care problems, that the dentists who treated the other five did not file complaints, and that he might have been exaggerating a bit when he reported there being "every week a different problem" with work Tupac performed on one patient.

Reed was on the stand during the entire second day of an administrative hearing here to help determine whether Tupac committed gross negligence and other wrongdoing in treating two patients.

Reed has been practicing general dentistry for some 40 years and sits on the California Dental Association's board of directors. He filed a complaint with the board against Tupac in September 2009 after filling in for Tupac when he was on medical leave and talking to several other dentists who'd treated former Tupac patients.

"We collectively felt the care was substandard in our community," Reed said under direct examination by Deputy Attorney General Morgan Malek.

Tuesday's proceedings, before an administrative law judge, largely centered on the treatment of onetime Tupac patient Rick Lawhon, who came to Reed in mid-2009 with multiple structural problems plaguing his upper and lower fixed dentures including a broken upper denture and teeth that were falling out.

Over the next year, Reed testified, he had to repair Lawhon's upper and lower dentures numerous times, although the work ultimately failed to fix the problems. Eventually, Reed had to completely redo Lawhon's upper and lower dentures, which he finished in May 2011 at a cost of some $35,000, he said.

During cross-examination, Tupac attorney Jason Friedman painstakingly took Reed through the patient notes that were taken when Lawhon came into Reed's office for treatment and illustrated the point that Reed frequently failed to sign them. Reed conceded notes ought to be signed.

Friedman raised a billing dispute Reed once had with Tupac over a patient they both treated, inferring Reed had some sort of financial grudge against Tupac.

Reed acknowledged that once when a dental assistant who has also worked for Tupac asked Reed to write a letter of recommendation for her, Reed may have said he would, but that she would then owe him something. Friedman raised the possibility that that "something" was finding names of unhappy patients to report to the dental board.

Reed insisted that if he made the comment about being owed something, it was done in jest and that he certainly "didn't need any help getting names" of people dissatisfied with Tupac's care because there were plenty.

Reed repeatedly stressed he had no motive to report Tupac other than protecting patients. In response to follow-up questioning by deputy A.G. Malek, he said his office aims to make an estimated $5,000 a day treating patients and so he was losing money by testifying Tuesday.

Friedman also questioned Reed about what dental law stipulates auxiliary employees like dental assistants are allowed to do and what doing those things "under direct supervision" by dentists means.

Reed had reported to the dental board that a Tupac employee told him she performed tasks she shouldn't have with Tupac's knowledge. Reed conceded that some Dental Act provisions are clear and some are vague.

Both sides agreed Tuesday that Tupac's hearing was going to take much longer than the five days originally allotted. Because of scheduling conflicts, it's expected that after Friday's proceedings, the hearing won't resume until this summer or even fall.

It's not uncommon for hearings to be done piecemeal and over such long periods of time, leaving allegations like those against Tupac hanging unresolved, hearing participants said.

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