Thursday we profiled four Western Dental clients who said they suffered serious injuries during their treatments. The HMO responded by saying those are isolated cases that do not reflect the quality of care patients receive.
In this report we highlight the story of a mother whose visit to Western Dental may have left her with a lifetime of pain.
Milagro Medrano is an immigrant from El Salvador who has worked at a San Francisco orchid nursery for 13 years. Money is tight and she has no dental benefits, so when she needed a root canal in February of last year, she went to the Western Dental on Mission Street.
"It started hurting the same day I got it, and the second day it hurt a little more, and it's been over a year now," she said.
The Western Dental dentist pushed too much filler into the root of Milagro's tooth.
"Then, when they put their filling in, they pushed it out the root, down into the nerve canal," Dr. Don Missirlian said. He says if Western Dental had quickly diagnosed the blocked nerve, an oral surgeon could have corrected the problem. Now it is too late.
"It's numb on the outside and inside it feels like it's burning me," Medrano said.
Medrano is left with a constant, searing pain. On a scale of one to 10, she says the pain is a 10.
She showed us all the pain medications she has tried and the doctors she has seen.
Missirlian: She's been to the pain clinic at UCSF, the medications aren't working, so her life has really been changed.
Noyes: And that's permanent, that's not going to go away?
Missirlian: It appears to be that way.
Missirlian is a paid expert witness for the lawsuit Medrano filed and in other lawsuits against Western Dental.
CEO Sam Gruenbaum declined to be interviewed on camera about this case, but sent a pre-recorded response from the HMO's dental director.
"And she did not complain of any complications or unusual pain until two months after her treatment," chief dental director Louis Amendola said. "We referred her to a specialist as soon as she reported a problem."
But Medrano's attorney says she complained about the pain right away -- that the HMO delayed referring her to a specialist and now refuses to pay for microsurgery that might address the problem.
"These are the type of injuries that should not occur. These are preventable type of injuries and that's why it's called negligence," attorney Ed Zinman said.
While the case moves forward, Medrano is doing her best to keep it together as a wife and mother. She says her injury has affected her home life.
"Before I used to go out with my kids. I can't anymore," she said. "The medicine's too strong and I can't drive like that."
Medrano and her children pray for the pain to go away and for their lives to return to normal.
"I get mad and I get sad because I don't want to see my mom like that," said daughter Cynthia Medrano. "I want to see my mom like she used to be -- happy, always laughing, having time with the family."
"I feel really bad. I'm not like I was before. My life has completely changed," Medrano said.
Medrano is now considering having the nerve destroyed. She believes that feeling numb is better than a lifetime of pain.
Gruenbaum and his lawyers claim that the HMO "has patient satisfaction levels of over 99.9 percent." They write, "Western Dental's quality control policies, practices and procedures? are among the most stringent and extensive in the industry."
The bottom line -- check out any dentist you might see, including those from Western Dental.
For more on this story, visit the I-Team Blog.