Health & Family

Carolinas HealthCare dental clinic in Charlotte closed abruptly

A Charlotte dental clinic that served about 4,000 patients, including employees of its owner, Carolinas HealthCare System, closed abruptly in mid-March, taking staff and patients by surprise.

Employees of Carolinas Center for Oral Health said they were told by a hospital system executive that the center would close immediately. Two dentists and three hygienists had provided general dentistry at the center, which opened in 2009 at 1601 Abbey Place, near Park Road and Woodlawn Road.

According to the website, the general dentistry service was led by Dr. John Merrill. He and Dr. Gary Arnold, another general dentist, were terminated without cause and are receiving severance pay under contracts that require they be given 90 days’ notice before dismissal, according to an employee who asked not to be named. The employee was not authorized to speak for the center.

Although the center no longer will offer general dentistry, it will continue to offer advanced oral medicine and oral surgery, said Carolinas HealthCare President Joseph Piemont, who was a patient of the center.

In a statement, Piemont said: “The long-term viability of providing general dentistry services at Carolinas Center for Oral Health had been under review for some time. However, personnel issues precipitated the decision … to immediately end this part of the practice. We sincerely regret the disruption and apologize for any anxiety and confusion this action has caused our patients and staff, and we will continue to help our general dentistry patients … with the transition to a new provider.”

One of the center’s patients, Don Jackson, 55, of Gastonia, told the Observer he was upset to be “thrown into limbo” after paying $4,490 upfront for Invisalign braces. He has eight months left in the 18-month orthodontia process and doesn’t know how it will be completed.

Carolinas HealthCare sent letters to patients about a week after the clinic closed, offering to provide dental records and referrals and providing contact information for Merrill, Arnold, the Invisalign company, and the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners’ directory of dentists.

When Jackson called the Carolinas Center dental office, he said he was referred to a Huntersville dentist who, it turned out, doesn’t provide orthodontia services. Jackson said he was also told by a Carolinas Center staffer that the center would cover his bill for a new dentist. But when Jackson contacted another dentist who agreed to accept him as a patient, the dentist’s staff told Jackson they had trouble getting his records.

On Thursday, Jackson said he’s still wearing Invisalign braces that should have been replaced eight days ago. “It seems like they could have done it a little smoother and given them a little transition time.”

Bobby White, executive director of the state dental board, said one of the dentists from Carolinas Center for Oral Health contacted the board with concerns about “patient abandonment.”

White said the board contacted Carolinas HealthCare and received assurances that the clinic had taken safeguards to protect patients. “We haven’t had a complaint so far,” White said. “For us to investigate, we have to have a complaint.”