What to do when your doctor abandons you

Orthodontist shut down in February, leaving patients in limbo

HOUSTON – A Houston orthodontist who closed his practice suddenly has left hundreds of patients in limbo.

Dr. Don T. Speck shuttered his office in February.

Patients and parents of patients have been scrambling in the weeks since to find other orthodontists, obtain medical records and seek refunds for prepaid care.

"My brother has been diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia," said Dr. Kirk Speck, the orthodontist's brother, by telephone the evening the story was first broadcast by KPRC. "We also just lost our father and mother. It has been hard on us. Our family has been doing this for 70 years.  We've so far transferred about 375 patient records. There are about 3,000. Our primary goal is transferring records. Regarding patient refunds, we are trying to get the accounting together."

Kirk Speck said that patients of Don Speck should send an email to Dontspeckdds@hotmail.com regarding their concerns.

Some parents report they have not heard back.

Kirk Speck said Tuesday he would now reply to emails.

Some parents of patients wished Don Speck good health but lamented over their predicaments.

“I mean he is working with children so that to me is very upsetting,” Gabi Ventura said.

Ventura’s daughter is a fourth grader who wears braces, fitted by Don Speck. The metal remains in her mouth.

The Ventura family has filed a complaint with the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) and has found a new orthodontist.

TSBDE acknowledges as an overseeing authority, it has received an unspecified number of complaints in regard to Speck’s orthodontic practice closing without notice.

 “It is under investigation,” Dr. W. Boyd Bush Jr., executive director of TSBDE, said by telephone.

Bush said that the board is in the midst of helping former patients secure dental records.

The board has no police powers. The biggest punishment it can dole out is license suspension and revocation.

Some Houston-area orthodontists who are aware of the situation, have also volunteered to take on the abandoned patients, although the cost of the treatment is not free.

In the case of Don Speck, his license lapsed last November. Channel 2 Investigates has learned Speck saw patients for at least two months after his license expired.

Texas law dictates that doctors and dentists must provide copies of medical and dental records to patients, however doctors and dentists retain ownership of the records.

Doctors and dentists are also required to designate a custodian of records in the event of the doctor’s death, incapacitation, the end of their practice and certain other instances.  

Bush said that in Don Speck’s case, it did not initially appear the designated custodian had complete access to patient records, slowing the transfer process.

“He has an F rating due to two unanswered complaints,” said Denisha Maxey, senior director of dispute resolution with the Houston Better Business Bureau.

Maxey said there are specific steps patients and parents of patients can take to move forward.

“As a doctor or dentist you have an even greater responsibility to consumers,” Maxey said.

Here are Maxey’s keys to success for abandoned patients:

1. Send a demand letter’to your doctor or dentist. State clearly and specifically what you want. Send via certified mail.

2. File applicable complaints to these sources:
Texas State Board of Dental Examiners: http://www.tsbde.texas.gov/complaints.html
Texas Medical Board: http://www.tmb.state.tx.us/page/place-a-complaint
Better Business Bureau: https://www.bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started
Texas Dental Association: https://www.tda.org/Patient-Resources/Complaint-Resolution
Texas Office of Attorney General: https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer-protection/health-care

3. Records are often easier to obtain than refunds. “It may be a long process,” Maxey advises.
Consumers seeking less than $5,000 may file in small claims court: http://www.jp.hctx.net/civil/default.htm

4.  Remember: Your medical insurance company may have copies of your medical records.