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Riled-up patient finds justice

For three years, Marilyn McCarthy led a determined quest against her former dentist.

Driving alone to hearings in Orlando, Tampa and Panama City from her home in The Villages, she racked up 800 miles on her 2004 Toyota Avalon to bear witness against Dr. Ben Mac-Ryan Spivey. Sometimes she was allowed to speak, but if not, she stared daggers at him.

Last Friday, the vigil paid off for McCarthy, who will soon be 80.  The Florida Board of Dentistry ordered Spivey to reimburse her $15,500 for dental work she paid for but never received.

“He thought he could screw me because I was old (and) I’d go away,” McCarthy told Health News Florida.  “I didn’t.”

Such tenacity is highly unusual, say those who follow the health disciplinary boards. Most patients with a gripe don’t know how to file a formal complaint (see this site for forms and instructions).  Even when they figure that part out,  they don’t know how to track the administrative hearing process, which can take years.

Tampa dentist William Robinson, a former board member, called her persistence “remarkable.”

McCarthy said she was driven by two things: Fury over Spivey’s “arrogance,” agreeing to take her money for work he couldn’t perform, she said, and the need to get out from under her dental debt.

“You don’t know how angry you can get when you are writing checks for $500 every month. It’s so aggravating,” she said. “It was like a stab wound every time I wrote that check.”

Spivey had been accused of pushing patients into opening CapitalCare lines of credit and then running up big bills on unnecessary treatments. Spivey said it was an employee who handled the financial side, a woman who later was arrested for falsifying prescriptions for narcotics. The Department of Health dropped charges of fraud.

However, he still faced six cases involving charges of substandard care or sloppy record-keeping. They were resolved with a settlement that requires Spivey to pay a $47,000  fine and $33,000 in DOH costs, mostly legal fees.

He also will be on probation for at least two years, with a monitor for his financial ledger as well as patient records. In addition, he must complete 100 hours of community service outside of the dental field and a number of courses.

Spivey was licensed to practice in 2003, soon after his graduation from University of Florida College of Dentistry. In only a few years he had a string of six clinics in the Ocala area, building the business by advertising free limousine pickup.

But by 2010, facing eight complaints from patients to the Department of Health—including McCarthy’s – Spivey voluntarily stopped practicing.

McCarthy said she originally went to see Spivey because of bone loss in her upper jaw that made her dentures loose. She told the board on Friday that Spivey assured her he could fix the issue by providing her implants to support a new upper denture so long as she would sign a bank loan and pay him in advance for the work.

“I signed the paper and then he acted like I was a dog, kicking me to the curb,” she said. “He put in a couple of upper things, implants, and he never looked at them again."

McCarthy said Spivey left her with two screws in her mouth that have befuddled specialists who “don’t know what to do with them.” The screws also make it impossible for McCarthy to wear her old dentures.

Spivey also took two crowns off of lower teeth so he could make dentures for the lower jaw, but she says she never received it. Crownless, one of the two teeth cracked and had to be pulled.

The pain in her mouth makes it difficult to eat, she said, but she couldn’t get the dental problems fixed until she got her money back.

“All I am asking for is ...some help,” McCarthy told the board members.

McCarthy stayed on top of the proceedings against Spivey by registering online as an interested party for Board of Dentistry meetings. She said she would peruse the agendas that would show up in her emails to see which dentists were up for hearings.

She never missed a meeting where the Spivey case was discussed. This week, she said,  “Finally, I can let go of it now.”

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to journalism in the public interest. Christine Jordan Sexton can be reached at 850-251-0358 or by e-mail. Questions, comments can go to Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.