The case against a Lewiston dentist accused of putting the health and safety of his patients in immediate jeopardy is significantly weaker than it was a few weeks ago.
The Maine Board of Dental Practice dismissed the majority of claims made against Dr. Jan Kippax on Friday. Kippax temporarily lost his license last February amid allegations that he extracted the wrong teeth and continued painful procedures even though patients asked him to stop.
Maine Things Considered Host Nora Flaherty and Maine Public Reporter Patty Wight discussed the case.
Flaherty: Kippax seemed to win a major victory today.
Wight: The case isn’t over yet, but his defense did get a big boost when the dental board initially considered this case. They were looking at five patient complaints that amounted to 64 allegations. But after the hearing Friday, all but four of the allegations have been dismissed.
Flaherty: So what happened?
Wight: The dental boards held several hearings on Kippax’s case. And at a hearing last month, an expert witness that was called by the state pretty well shattered their case. It was an oral surgeon from Johns Hopkins, and he testified that there’s not enough evidence to show that Kippax deviated from the standard of care. And in light of that testimony, Kippax’s attorney James Belleau made a motion to dismiss the allegations against his clients. The state agreed to dismiss half of them. So the dental board considered the remaining 32 today and they tossed out all but four.
Flaherty: On what basis were they were they dismissed?
Wight: The board had to decide whether to grant or deny dismissals based on whether the allegations were more likely true than not true. And part of the challenge was that in many instances, they were weighing conflicting testimony between patients and then Dr. Kippax and his staff. This is largely a case of he said she said, and the board went through each allegation one by one. They really scrutinized the wording. But by and large they found that the state had not provided a preponderance of evidence that the allegations were more likely true than not true. And you could see that the board members struggled with this when they were trying to determine whether to dismiss allegations. There were comments like, ‘We’re up against conflicting testimony.’ There were comments about how they didn’t believe that patients lied about their experiences and that it was important to give weight to the patients’ complaints and to really hear those complaints. But despite those concerns ultimately they concluded when they looked at the allegations that the evidence just wasn’t there to let those allegations stand.
Flaherty: It’s not surprising to me that they would be up against conflicting testimony given that patients were saying this happened and Kippax was saying it doesn’t. Why did they come down on his side in so many of those cases?
Wight: They’re also looking at records that were kept in the office about procedures. And you know there were times where they felt that there were questionable practices perhaps, but they didn’t know if it crossed the line over into incompetence. They talked about how there was a difference between being well trained and not having empathy. And I think that was the struggle, that there just wasn’t enough solid evidence to support the allegations.
Flaherty: What was the reaction then from Dr. Kippax and his attorney?
Wight: Belleau spoke briefly to reporters afterward, and he criticized the board for temporarily suspending Kippax’s license last February before his client had a chance to defend himself, and I think he felt vindicated that once Kippax did have an opportunity, many of the allegations were dismissed. He’s optimistic about the remaining allegations.
He said, ‘We look forward at the end of this month to presenting a defense on the remaining three and two-thirds allegations and I’m confident that after that the board will dismiss all of the remaining allegations in the complaint.’
Wight: I should point out that he’s saying that there are three and two-thirds allegations because one of the remaining allegations was partially dismissed.
Flaherty: What’s next?
Wight: As Belleau mentioned, there’s going to be hearing at the end of the month for the remaining four allegations, or three and two-thirds, and this will be the first time that Kippax will be able to present his own witnesses, and the board will consider that testimony before it makes an ultimate decision on what, if any, disciplinary action to take against Kippax.
This story was originally published Dec. 1, 2017 at 6:18 p.m. ET.