Staff Photo by Kate Harrison/Chattanooga Times Free Press Allcare Dental & Dentures on Shallowford Road closed its doors indefinitely on Dec. 31 without notifying its patients.
When Sam Willmore showed up for an appointment Wednesday at Allcare Dental & Dentures on Shallowford Road, he found the door locked and a sign posted on the window saying the office was closed and patients' records were being sent to other dental care providers.
"They didn't give any kind of notification, and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do," said Willmore, of Ooltewah, who said he'd put down thousands of dollars for dental implants and doesn't expect Allcare to complete the treatment.
Thousands of Allcare patients across the country are left unsure how they'll receive treatment or get refunds since the New York-based dental chain abruptly closed its offices nationwide Dec. 31. Its website is down and phone lines are disconnected -- with very little explanation provided to its patients, most of whom are senior citizens.
In a letter posted Jan. 3 on a temporary website, Allcare stated that "there are no plans at this time to reopen the offices."
The letter stated that "the business became severely cash constrained." It said the company had shut down underperforming offices and raised capital from an equity group. But Allcare couldn't meet its deadlines and its recovery plans failed, the statement said.
According to a report by The Associated Press, a notice from Allcare to the New Hampshire Board of Dental Examiners dated Sunday said "the entire company has run out of money." Hundreds of Allcare employees were notified by phone of the company's closure on New Year's Eve, and they don't know whether they'll receive payment for hours already worked.
The Tennessee Department of Health has been trying to assist patients left in the lurch, spokeswoman Andrea Turner said. The first thing she's advising is for people to keep trying to contact Allcare for assistance, referrals and records. If their calls go unanswered, Turner said people should file complaints with the department's investigations office and to contact the Department of Commerce and Insurance.
"This is just really an unfortunate circumstance," said Turner. "Contacts have told us that many individuals had already paid for treatment and were awaiting dentures and other treatments."
Lynelle Mason, 79, is one such patient. Mason, who lives at Alexian Village in Signal Mountain, has been trying to obtain a much-needed denture repair from Allcare for several weeks. She's afraid she's lost the five-year warranty guaranteed by her 2009 treatment, which cost $4,500.
"My son helps take care of me, so he's really the one whose lost the big money. We just thought this was going to be a good solution," Mason said.
IF YOU'RE AN ALLCARE PATIENT
* If you have any urgent dental care needed, seek another provider immediately.
* Visit Allcare's temporary website, allcareinfo.com
* File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at 423-266-6144.
* File a complaint with the Department of Health's Investigations Office. The phone number is 1-800-852-2187.
* Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-342-8385.
According to the AP, Allcare, incorporated in 2001, operated 52 locations in 15 states a year ago. In an April 2009 agreement with Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, Allcare agreed to pay a $135,000 settlement for consumer complaints about deceptive advertising and financing information, the AP said.
In a two-page spread in the Chattanooga Yellow Pages, Allcare advertises "dentures as low as $15 per month," "interest-free payment plans" and "generous senior discounts," among other low-cost, no-hassle amenities.
Attempts to reach employees at the Chattanooga Allcare office were unsuccessful.
Chattanooga's Better Business Bureau has taken at least 25 calls over the past three days about Allcare. Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the BBB, said that on top of complaints drawn from the sudden closure, consumers have complained about quality of care and previous billing and refund problems. He said customers claim they have lost from $1,000 to $5,000 each.
The Allcare website claimed it was transferring patient records and unfinished dental work to dentists close to its offices. The website also says all patients soon will be able to retrieve their records, and asks them to stay tuned for updates.
Winsett said it's good Allcare is seeking alternatives for its customers, but he's afraid moving clients' records around without their consent could violate patient privacy laws.
Meanwhile, Allcare patients are trying to figure out how best to proceed.
"I don't know what's next for us," said Willmore. "This seemed like a good place, and I thought it would save us some money. Looks to be the opposite now."