‘We Just Need More Hands on Deck’: Dental Examiners’ Investigations Team Short-Staffed

Oral Health
Pexels.com photo by Cedric Fauntleroy.

The state board responsible for investigating misconduct by dentists is reporting staffing issues, causing delays in the prosecution of ethical and patient safety disputes.

The State Board of Dental Examiners conducts investigations into infection control, threats to patient safety and ethical complaints levied against licensed dental practitioners.

Dr. Arpana S. Verma, president of the State Board of Dental Examiners, told the House Health and Government Operations Committee during a briefing Wednesday that, over the past several years, the board has lost staff to better-paying positions, had problems reimbursing its case reviewers in a timely manner and is consistently facing lengthy delays during the hiring process because of issues with the statewide Human Resources department.

“I am currently serving my seventh year on the board and there has never been a single year … since I began serving that I can recall that the board was fully staffed,” Verma said.

Verma asked the House committee to help the board secure the ability to hire additional staff members.

But lawmakers pushed back, noting that it can’t currently fill all of the open positions it has.

“Yes, you want more … staff but you have three [positions] that have not been fulfilled and I feel like you need to fulfill those, as well, first,” House Government and Operations Committee Vice Chair Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) said. “And it must be intentional.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only hindered the board’s ability to recruit and retain workers.

Verma said that, as with many state agencies, the pandemic and subsequent hiring freeze instituted by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr. (R) has created a staffing shortage.

For example, the board had only one investigator handling 125 cases for the past year-and-a-half, though it had the ability to hire three more investigators and a supervisor — “and it has only recently been able to recruit additional investigators,” Verma said.

“It’s not humanly possible for one person as an investigator to handle 125 cases,” she said. “That’s just not humanly possible.”

According to Verma, the board just hired two more investigative staff members, and “are hopefully — my fingers are all crossed — in the process of acquiring one additional investigator.”

But, adding three or five more investigators and someone in a supervisory position wouldn’t alleviate the pressure, Verma said, considering the board’s high investigative caseload.

And even when the board does find qualified, interested candidates, the hiring process can range anywhere from four to 18 months — not just because of the pandemic, Verma said, “that’s just been across the board.”

When the State Board of Dental Examiners receives a complaint about a practitioner, that practice’s records are subpoenaed and then reviewed to ensure that all of the necessary records are present. If they aren’t, the record subpoena and intake process are repeated.

“All of that takes time,” and doesn’t include interviewing the dentists subject to the complaint, their support staff and any subsequent oral health care provider the complainant has seen since filing, Verma said.

“We just need more hands on deck,” she continued. “Honestly, if you gave us more hands on deck we could be so much more efficient and do so much of a better job.”

Asked if the problem lies in a need for more open job positions or a dearth of interested candidates, Verma responded both, noting that the board is trying to recruit people into positions with unattractive salaries.

“It can be difficult to attract the best candidates for this,” Verma said.

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.