A Dentist Who Loved Torture and Medical Fraud

Dental instruments

A Dentist Who Loved Torture and Medical Fraud
| published May 24, 2015 |

By Earl Perkins Thursday Review features editor

Howard Schneider faces medical and child abuse lawsuits, Medicaid fraud and divorce, but the Jacksonville dentist is unfazed by accusations he claims are all untrue, according to the Florida Times-Union.

Rumors had been circulating for decades that the Southside pediatric dentist performed numerous unnecessary medical procedures and then billed families of patients, or Medicaid. He now faces potential problems from three different directions—a wife seeking divorce and alimony, lawsuits from numerous angry parents, and state and local prosecutors probing government fraud accusations.

Initially, the story looked as though it would quickly fade from headlines, but I've changed my mind after gathering information from former co-workers and parents. Take a look at the latest episode of Good Morning America, and then tell me this one's not headed for the national talk-show circuit.

Still haunted by what she saw in Schneider's office, a former employee stepped forward Thursday and spoke with CBS-TV47, backing up several accusations recently leveled against Schneider. The woman also shared her observations with local lawyers and the State Attorney's Office. And although she only worked there for a brief span of time, her story seems to ring true.

“He would cover their mouth,” she said. “It was horrible. Him putting his hand over the children’s mouth(s), yelling at them, getting close to their ear, telling them they better shut up."

Seeking anonymity because she now works for another local dentist, the woman says Schneider's wife began training her in early 2014.

“She, for a fact, was doing all the billing,” she said. “I did question her a few times on the way she did things (concerning Medicaid billing charts) because it was a little shady.” Others who have worked with Schneider over the decades say his billing procedures—especially as they applied to Medicare and Medicaid—flirted with, or crossed the threshold, of the illegal.

But what has caught the attention of many people: those two locked doors which separated the operating room where children were treated, and the room where parents were told to wait.

“He didn’t like for you to be nurturing and make them feel at ease. He wanted you to be rough. He would get angry when you would try to calm them down,” she said. “I felt like he made them want to be scared…I started crying because I just felt uncomfortable with that.”

The woman passed her concerns along to Schneider and his wife, but was evidently ignored. After leaving the job a few weeks later, she filed two separate complaints with the state.

“They said they’d look into it and that was the last thing I heard, and that was well over a year ago,” she told reporters. The Attorney General’s Office could not confirm if Mrs. Schneider is also being investigated. She was only one of numerous people (both employees and patients) who complained to state authorities about Schneider's potentially illegal billing practices over the years. Little came of those complaints.

Schneider has practiced dentistry for 53 years, but his career is apparently reaching its conclusion. Last week, amidst hearings to revoke his license to practice dentistry, Schneider in effect kicked himself into retirement, relinquishing his license and starting the process of shutting down his practice. His swansong was a long time in the making. For several months, dozens of parents and former patients have protested outside his office on a regular basis. Most of the protesters tell stories or share accusations which mirror each other or bear a striking similarity; Schneider is accused of pulling teeth or crowning teeth unnecessarily, of operating on patients’ teeth without Novocain, of manipulating painkillers and treatment room procedures to deliberately maximize pain for the patient, and telling whining or whimpering children to shut up if they ever wanted to see their parents again.

Parents tell of their kids reappearing from the treatment room covered in bruises on the face and neck, mouths bloodied and lips swollen, and kids (some now adults themselves) retell horror stories of how they were treated once they were placed in the chair and the room was locked. After telling one mother her child had fallen from the operating chair—apparently in an effort to explain bruises and blood—the youth removed the gauze from her mouth and told a different story, saying she had been thrown to the floor.

Former employees and interns frequently tell stories which seem to corroborate the stories told by parents and patients, in effect portraying Dr. Schneider as a textbook sadist who derived pleasure and gratification from bullying patients and inflicting gruesome forms of pain—the younger the patient, the better. Schneider also instilled fear in his staff, demanding that they act as accomplices to his sadistic dental treatments.

Pain, blood, and bad memories aside, Schneider faces larger demons than those protesters and the horrific stories now flooding into the media from hundreds of former patients. Schneider, it turns out, is accused is swindling taxpayers for years. And Uncle Sam is not amused by the initial numbers.

The government's interest in the cases stems from Schneider's Medicaid reimbursements, which surpassed $4 million from 2010 through 2014. The Attorney General’s Medicaid fraud control unit is spearheading the investigation, along with help from the State Attorney’s Office and other agencies.

To make matters worse for the dentist, at least two attorneys from separate law firms with cases against Schneider said the Department of Health—which controls medical licenses in Florida—is investigating him. It has been these proceedings which have stripped Schneider of his license and nudged the doctor to the brink of retirement.

“The Florida Department of Health can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint or investigation until 10 days after probable cause is found,” a spokeswoman wrote. “The Department is vigilant in its efforts to ensure the public is protected from unsafe or unscrupulous health-care practice.” Nevertheless, the end is nigh for the good doctor.

This has all been too much for Schneider’s wife, his former office manager. She filed a divorce lawsuit last Friday, claiming he “blocked the wife from financial accounts and dissipated the funds,” the lawsuit said. It also stated they have agreed to sell their home, and she demands alimony, because she has become accustomed to living a certain lifestyle during the time she and her husband made a substantial income.

She may have seen the handwriting on the wall, because Schneider was sued twice in the 1990s. Court records were destroyed in one case, but the other one detailed the case of a toddler who had a mouthful of unnecessary of crown work performed. Schneider allegedly deliberately shaved the boy’s teeth and placed 16 crowns in his mouth without telling his mother. While in the treatment room the three-year-old screamed, “you’re killing me,” the lawsuit said. Apparently, the sides of his mouth cracked, which caused bleeding. Schneider settled the case for $7,500.

Another lawsuit was filed this month, with the parents of four children alleging similar abuse in their case. That attorney also claims to be interviewing approximately a dozen more parents. Lawyers at another Jacksonville law firm have gathered about 45 cases against the long-time dentist.

However, a medical malpractice lawsuit involves a long and tedious process. The doctor must first be notified, with attorneys requesting records and insurance, followed by a notice of intent to sue. Then an affidavit from another dentist must be filed, confirming the person acted inappropriately. Then the plaintiff and defendant are given 90 days to gather evidence.

“I’ve been brought to tears probably a dozen times out of these 40 interviews with horror stories that as a father of a 3-year-old, it just wakes you up,” said attorney John M. Phillips. “There’s harm around every corner.

“What’s a child’s pain worth?” Phillips said. “The kind of defensive position is these are temporary teeth and going to the dentist is frightening and it is painful. But it’s not supposed to be traumatic where you have people in their 30s, 40s and 50s saying, ‘I remember Dr. Schneider, and I still have nightmares about him.’”

Recent records searches have turned up some interesting, if not disturbing realities about Dr. Schneider’s practice, among them the fact the over a twenty year period local police or law enforcement were called to his office more than 160 times. This raises the immediate question of why no red flags were raised sooner, and why the frequent complaints of parents and patients went ignored—or were shrugged off—by those whose jobs are to monitor the behavior of a dentist with a 30 year history of sadistic behavior and consistent medical fraud.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Boot Hill's Buried Crimes; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; February 3, 2014.