Monday, February 1, 2010

Two Thumbs Down

If you are not the type who enjoys reading negative reviews on Yelp, let me save you the trouble, skip this post. I have in fact already posted my feelings about this horrible "business" on said site, but apparently I have not yet worked it out of my system. There is more to say.

The operation I am speaking of is Western Dental. It was time for Zachary's six month cleaning and we didn't yet have a dentist here in Berkeley. Zachary's previous dental experiences had been stellar. We went to an office (Highland Smiles) in our Denver neighborhood. It was modern and friendly. As soon as you arrived in the office you were handed a bottle of water. There was an area of toys for the youngsters. During your cleaning you were given the choice of watching a video or listening to an Ipod. Zachary of course selected the video. At the end of the visit he was presented with a bag containing a polka dotted toothbrush, floss, and some stickers. He also got to pick out a toy from the treasure chest. All and all a great experience.

Our experience with Western Dental on the other hand was in a word- miserable. I arrived for our 4:00 appointment with both boys. I had to park several blocks away and plug the meter (it is Berkeley after all). As soon as I entered the facility I knew I had made a mistake. The place was dingy, crowded and chaotic. People sat in ugly chairs that hadn't been updated since 1970. They looked...defeated, like they had been there for a very long time. I checked in with a receptionist who handed me a stack of paperwork to fill out. Pretty standard information, except they asked a lot of questions about how I planned to pay for my services and requested three personal references. References for me? Aren't I the customer? I skipped that part. We settled in and waited. I kept Evan happy by feeding him goldfish crackers. That worked for about ten minutes. The challenge was keeping him busy for the next hour. That is right, they didn't get us in until 1 hour and ten minutes after our scheduled appointment. I even had to take both boys back to the car to replug the meter. Not happy. Not at all.

As it turned out Zachary had a cavity. We would have to come back another day to get it filled. They got me an appointment for first thing Monday morning. They told we would be the first appointment so there would be no wait. Monday morning arrives. I had warned Zack about the needle, but felt confident that he would do okay. He has been fine with shots in the past. The shot of anesthesia didn't bother him much, however he became fidgety and squirmy with the dentist's hands in his mouth. The dentist got very anxious. The assistant announced she was feeling sick and excused herself for the bathroom. The dentist YELLED for "back-up" assistance, like she was in the middle of open-heart surgery in a scene from E.R. I was flabbergasted. The process took a very long time. The dentist seemed completely beside herself pleading with Zachary to please, please stay still. He is four for crying out loud. What exactly had she expected? She kept looking at me and telling me that we couldn't possibly let him go without getting the tooth filled, like I was considering fleeing. Perhaps I should have.

In the end the dentist told me that she hoped Zack would not get any additional cavities, at least until he was older. No kidding. As I left the office I checked out with the receptionist. They did not have a bill ready for me, they would have mail it. Fine.

Two weeks later, I receive a collections letter in the mail, not a bill, a collections letter. I owed $59.00 . That very same day I received not one, not two, but three messages from their collections department. It was after hours when I got the messages so I didn't call them back. Over the course of the next three days they called relentlessly, I could see by the caller ID history on my phone. Finally on the fourth day, I called back ready to settle this and be done with Western Dental for good. The agent informed me that I now owed a $30 late fee on top of my $59.00. Deep breath. I informed the agent that I would under no circumstances pay a late fee on a service that I never received a bill for, and that occurred only two weeks ago. He tried to argue with me for a few moments, but ultimately waived the late charge. (One small victory). I paid up and then vented to him about the whole terrible experience. The man listened with a bit of rehearsed empathy, but was clearly a collection agent earning $10 an hour who had a script and was sticking to it. I hung up frustrated.

That is when I headed to Yelp. (click on the link for a prime example of a recent review this poor excuse for a dental clinic received). As it turns out, I should have visited the site prior to dragging my innocent child to Western Dental. It was like feeding a lamb to wolves. The practice has a terrible reputation. Nothing I had to report was new. It had all been said before. Long waits, incompetent dentists, ridiculous billing practices. Now I know. So perhaps this post is as much a bash against the worst dental practice in America, as it is an advertisement for Yelp. Hurray for Yelp. It could have helped.

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