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Liquidation of Auckland dentist alarms patients seeking redress

15:45 16/4/2024
Total Health Dentistry

Total Health Dentistry in the central Auckland suburb of Ponsonby in July 2023. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Patients of an Auckland dentist under investigation by authorities fear they may have lost thousands of dollars after discovering his practice has been placed into liquidation.

Dr Jacob Goldenberg of Total Health Dentistry in Ponsonby has been suspended by the Dental Council since March 2023, but patients claim he has been continuing to practice until recently.

The Auckland High Court placed the business into liquidation on April 11, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Several unopened letters from the Ministry of Justice were sighted on the floor behind the clinic's shuttered doors when RNZ visited Monday.

Several unopened letters from the Ministry of Justice were sighted on the floor behind the clinic’s shuttered doors when RNZ visited Monday.

Unopened letters from the Ministry of Justice lie on the floor. Photo: RNZ / Louise Ternouth

The Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC) said it had received 49 complaints about Goldenberg to date.

The Ministry of Health and Dental Council were continuing to investigate Goldenberg and his practice, saying investigations were in the "advanced stages".

Patients who claim to have paid thousands of dollars in advance for treatment they hadn't received expressed concern the liquidation proceedings could leave them substantially out of pocket.

Fang (Grace) Cao paid $12,000 in advance for four implants in March 2023, but has yet to receive the treatment.

She demanded a refund after learning of Goldberg's suspension but failed to recoup the money she paid up front.

Cao has filed a complaint against the clinic with the Disputes Tribunal but fears many patients, including herself, won't be able to get their money back now that liquidation proceedings have begun.

"I'm so worried about it," Cao said. "I think it's the same for other patients as well. We all understand life is so difficult and we also feel angry. So worried and angry."

Cao said some patients could still be waiting for treatment to be performed without being aware of the situation, arguing that authorities should have acted faster.

"This has been happening for so long - for more than a year," she said. "We have to question why Dr Goldenberg can continue to see patients?"

She asked authorities to help affected patients.

"We do need support," she said. "We need support ... from the HDC, from the Dental Council, from maybe IRD, from court. We need support, all of us, to protect our consumer rights."

Dental supplier Ivoclar Vivadent Ltd filed the liquidation application for Total Health Dentistry but declined to comment on the case when contacted by RNZ.

Dental Council chief executive Marie MacKay said the agency was unable to assist with financial disputes, as it was primarily responsible for maintaining oral health standards.

She advised affected patients to contact the appointed liquidator.

"Where a health practitioner is unable to provide their patient with treatment, they still have a professional responsibility to refer the patient to an appropriate practitioner," MacKay said. "Patients also have a right to their clinical records upon request."

Kieran Jones, a court-appointed liquidator in the case, said patients who had paid the company for incomplete treatments would be able to lodge a compensation claim as unsecured creditors.

"If the customer is a creditor in the liquidation and the liquidators are able to access and/or ascertain who the patients that may be creditors are, then those patients would technically be included as known creditors of the company," Jones said.

Vanessa Cook, national manager of criminal proceeds integrity and enforcement at MBIE, said liquidators have an ongoing obligation to advise the Registrar of Companies, along with any applicable agency, including the police, of any serious offending they identify while liquidating a company.

RNZ has approached Goldenberg and Total Health Dentistry for comment.

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