Dental assistant who quit over patient-safety concerns wins jobless benefits

By: - October 25, 2022 3:48 pm

An Iowa dental assistant who resigned due to alleged patient-safety concerns is entitled to unemployment benefits, a judge has ruled. (Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)

A worker at a Cedar Rapids dental clinic who resigned over alleged patient-safety concerns is entitled to unemployment benefits, an administrative law judge has ruled.

State records indicate Pamela Beavers resigned last November from Gentle Dental in Cedar Rapids where she had worked as a dental assistant since 2017.

At a July hearing dealing with her subsequent request for unemployment benefits, Beavers testified that she quit after spending much of her time at work trying to repair and clean the workplace in order to make the clinic safer for herself and patients.

According to the judge’s recent findings in the case, Beavers was concerned about her employer’s failure to fix a problem with the clinic’s water supply and the employer’s failure to keep the building maintained. The water used for dental patients in one area of the building allegedly had a foul smell and taste that triggered frequent complaints, Beavers alleged, but after a year the issue remained unaddressed.

Beavers also complained that the building was not kept clean enough, and that it had issues with mold and a leaking roof. The mold, she alleged, was simply painted over. She also complained that broken dental equipment was not being professionally repaired and was instead fixed with duct tape.

No one from Gentle Dental testified at the hearing.

Beavers was recently awarded unemployment benefits, with the judge ruling that she had quit for good cause due to her safety concerns.

Beavers’ supervisor, Stefanie Breslin, declined to comment on the allegations when contacted Tuesday by the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Dentist has record of sanctions from state regulators

The dentist practicing at Gentle Dental, Masih Safabakhsh, is also the president of Gentle Dental, and has been sanctioned by the Iowa Dental Board on more than one occasion.

In 2011, the board issued an emergency adjudicative order suspending certain elements of Safabakhsh’s  practice, alleging he had “severely and irreversibly damaged” several patients’ teeth.

As a result of those disciplinary proceedings, Safabakhsh was barred from initiating orthodontic treatments on any new patients and was prohibited from using cutting tools in certain dental procedures. He was fined $7,500 and in January 2012, the ban on the use of cutting tools was made permanent.

Six months later, in July 2012, the board alleged it received a complaint from multiple employees of Safabakhsh’s office about a patient who was taken by ambulance to a hospital after being given an extremely large dose of local anesthetic. The dose was three times the maximum dosage allowed under the manufacturer’s guidelines, the board alleged.

According to the board, after the incident, the patient’s records were altered to indicate a much lower dose of the anesthetic had been given.

As a result of that incident and several other issues directly related to the care given to other patients, the board charged Safabakhsh with failure to maintain a satisfactory standard of competency in the practice of dentistry, obtaining a fee by fraud, and failing to maintain records in a manner consistent with the protection of the public. At the same time, the board issued an emergency order suspending Safabakhsh’s license to practice dentistry.

In August 2014, his license was reinstated, subject to monitoring by the board. In April of this year, the Iowa Dental Board lifted all restrictions on his practice.

Other unemployment rulings

Other Iowans whose unemployment cases recently went before a judge include:

— Rebecca Scherbring, who was fired in May from Dubuque Internal Medicine where she worked as a patient-accounts representative. She was fired after her employer alleged that shortly after media coverage of “high profile” deaths in the community, Scherbring looked up the medical records of the deceased without having any work-related reason for doing so. Scherbring was also accused of looking up the medical records of multiple new employees at Dubuque Internal Medicine. She was denied unemployment benefits.

— Amy Loeffelholz, who was fired in July by the Trappistine Nuns, who are part of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Mississippi near Dubuque. Loeffelholz was hired in 2019, primarily as a caregiver to one of the sisters at the abbey. Until this summer, the Trappistine Nuns had not required Loeffelholz to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That changed after the sister she cared for contracted COVID-19 and became weak. Loeffelholz was then fired for failing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Noting that last fall Iowa lawmakers approved a bill prohibiting the denial of unemployment benefits to workers fired for refusing a COVID-19 vaccination, a judge recently reversed a fact-finder’s previous decision in the case and awarded Loeffelholz benefits.

— Jami Adrian, who was fired in September 2021 from Cardiovascular Medicine where she worked as a full-time insurance specialist for the health care provider. After Adrian did not comply with a policy requiring her to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or seek an exemption based on medical or religious reasons, she was fired. She was denied unemployment benefits, with Administrative Law Judge Carly Smith noting Adrian was fired shortly before the Legislature passed the law guaranteeing benefits for workers fired for refusing a vaccine. In her ruling, Smith said she wished “to emphasize that becoming vaccinated was not the sole way (Adrian) could have complied with the policy,” noting that Adrian made no attempt to apply for a religious or medical exemption.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.