Sarrell Dental Center, a nonprofit organization, is the largest single provider of Medicaid dental services in Alabama.
During a January 2010 meeting of dental association trustees, members expressed concern about an uneven playing field with regard to nonprofit clinics competing with private practitioners, and they discussed trying to get legislation passed to control nonprofits.
Participants at the meeting were concerned that opposition to Sarrell would be viewed negatively by local communities served by the clinics. Steve Mitchell, DMD, director of UABSOD's pediatric dentistry department, warned about the consequences in "the court of public opinion," according to meeting transcripts. He had worked at a Sarrell clinic and helped organize students to treat children.
Based on comments from the meeting, Sarrell filed a slander lawsuit against Dr. Mitchell in March 2010.
In April 2010, the UAB dental school decided to remove its students from the Sarrell clinics, where they had been getting hands-on clinical training -- a move Sarrell CEO Jeffrey Parker said was due to a turf battle with private practitioners and pressure from alumni dentists. But the university said the students were taken out of training rotation at the Sarrell clinics due to a lack of proper faculty supervision.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission subsequently launched an investigation into whether the ALDA engaged in unfair competition or deceptive acts by allegedly refusing to deal with Sarrell.
Sarrell then filed a lawsuit against the ALDA, claiming the organization had launched an "illegal conspiracy" to drive the clinic out of business.
In June 2011, Sarrell dropped its lawsuit against the ALDA after legislation was approved that exempts nondentists from oversight by the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners.
Parker called said the decision to drop the slander suit against Dr. Mitchell a "goodwill gesture."
"Steve Mitchell's painful, untrue words have caused enough embarrassment to him and his employer, and they are written into history by the Internet," Parker said in an email to DrBicuspid.com. "Those people who are important to the future of the practice of dentistry in Alabama know the truth of the situation, and that is enough for us. We have no desire to personally bankrupt Dr. Mitchell or to cause harm to any Alabama dental organization or university."
Opened in 2005, Sarrell now has 11 clinics, staffed by 52 dentists and 27 hygienists. The company saw revenues of $2.3 million in 2006 and is on track to reach $15 million this year, according to Parker.
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