Grievance filed against a dental practice

   [Formal complaint letter to both the Massachusetts dental licensing
   board, and the Massachusetts Dental Society, Feb 2018.  The MDS blew
   me off, saying "we are unable to assist".  The case remained pending at
   the licensure board for a full year before finally receiving its full
   hearing; these things move very slowly at the state-administrative level.
   Ultimately the board could not take corrective/punitive action either,
   as the situation fell outside its administrative scope, but at least it
   did trigger an inquiry cycle and the practice was forced to respond, and
   thus knew that I had sought high-level recourse against them.

   The letter is self-explanatory, and this is the submitted version that
   specifically names, shames, and calls out the blind ignorance I ran into
   at this practice.  The public needs to be aware of precisely what kind of
   people they are dealing with when selecting their care providers, and
   obviously this one comes distinctly DISRECOMMENDED.  Even if this case
   had eventually returned a positive outcome and/or a formal apology, I
   would not go back there for a number of other reasons.  There are other
   healthcare providers out there who not only don't care what's on or not
   on a patient's feet, they also understand the merits of choice.]


In early February 2018 I was the subject of discrimination at a Massachusetts dental practice, and would like to enter a formal complaint against that organization. I do understand that this does not qualify for "peer review" in the strictest sense, but let it be clear that the issue does have the effect of impeding patient access to care as well as imposing undue emotional stress. It is therefore a professional conduct and ethics problem, but not relating to an individual practitioner. It's a little complex; please bear with and absorb all of this.

The practice in question is Family Dental, located at 636 Main Street in Reading MA.  It is one of three offices, with the others in Lawrence and Haverhill, evidently owned by May Mu.  To my knowledge the specific dentists affected include Ralph Lewis, Bryan Dawley, Sirisha Rao, Baizheng Song, and Jason Marhue at the Reading location, and likely several others on the resident staff elsewhere.

For my personal health and well-being, I generally do not bother wearing shoes. I don't need them, and there are no applicable legal requirements for me to have them. I certainly don't need footwear in meticulously maintained indoor spaces such as office environments, nor do I in any but the harshest imaginable conditions such as subfreezing temperatures or bramble thickets. I've been a barefooter as much as possible for close to 40 years, I know exactly what I'm doing and where my limits are, and have hitherto enjoyed perfect foot and leg health as a result. It is a lifestyle which is gaining some popularity, largely fueled by recent research freely available on the internet, and the benefits are manifold and well-known. A simple online search for "barefoot" and "health" or similar words will turn up numerous supporting resources.

It is therefore illogical and intrusive that the office management at any medical facility should insist on footwear for my visits. In fact, in a routine visit to Family Dental five months before the incident in question I didn't have shoes on and nobody appeared to take any issue with it -- at least not in person at the time. I received service in a perfectly normal fashion that day, so there was clearly no identifiable problem which might have prevented that. The upsetting incident came much later and as a bit of an unwelcome surprise, during the process of confirming another appointment for a filling replacement.

The office clerk made a specific and separate phone call to inform me that wearing some kind of shoes was a condition of receiving treatment. This is flat-out arbitrary discrimination, completely baseless, as well as at odds with observations on my prior visit. There are people in this world who *cannot* wear shoes in their daily lives due to a disability or pre-existing condition, and while I may not be in that exact class my reasons for not wearing shoes are my own, my responsibility, and not for a business to question or even worry about. Now, I do understand that there is a lot of old brainwashing and prejudice in society about this, and this dispute with the dental practice stems only from that prejudice and irrational fear rather than any scientific or legal fact. This is why I am reporting this -- *medical practitioners* should know better, and already be aware and appreciative of the health benefits of not entombing one's feet all the time.

I asked to speak to the head office manager, Denise Johnson, who oversees all three facilities. She is apparently the main source of the problem, but others may also be involved. My understanding is that she is not qualified in a medical field per se, and only handles business management. The primary excuses that she mentioned seemed to be about safety or liability, which are specious because there is nothing around the offices in question that I would identify as a particular hazard. Floors are kept clean and items like sharps are all disposed of properly. Furthermore, there is no legal duty of care holding an establishment responsible for my feet, especially if I have already entered the premises barefoot by my own free will. Nothing that lands on the floor of a dental practice in day-to-day operation is likely to be of any concern for my well-conditioned soles, which also regularly carry me hiking over sharp rocks and gravel through woods and up mountains. I have evidently failed to make Family's facilities management understand that sufficiently well to simply accomodate my harmless lifestyle attributes and be done with it.

Frankly, if the people in these offices really believe that their own work environment is so much more dangerous than the public parking lot I just walked across to get there, they should have reviewed their cleaning procedures long ago. Again, it's just simple misguided personal phobia and comes from no rational thought. That basis was proven when I was on the phone with the office manager. She began a sentence with "Well, you know, no shirt, no shoes, ..." which confirms that she is operating solely from that sixties-era discriminatory malice that we still live with today. This is inexcusable business practice, and completely inappropriate for an organization that deals in medical science and fact every day and claims to have any interest in its subscribers' overall health and well-being. If this still hasn't clarified the concept, consider that patients are frequently barefoot without fear of harm on floors in other medical practice settings -- general checkups, physical therapy, even emergency rooms. There is no reason to believe that hallways and procedure areas in a dental office are littered with injurious debris.

So now I can only visit the Family Dental offices under personal duress, and nobody should ever have to fall victim to that sort of petty bullying -- especially from an organization which is being *paid* for its services. They should be strongly discouraged from setting groundless conditions of entry intended to impair or prevent clients from receiving care. Maybe it's a private practice that will argue that it can "make its own rules", but if for example they required all patients to enter wearing gloves or a Red Sox cap, there would be general outrage [especially from the Yankees fans]. This situation is exactly equivalent, equally ludicrous, and has implications affecting my ability to maintain my health.

   [Text which was only included in the letter to the MDS:]
In plain view on the Society's website, we find this text:

      The MDS is dedicated to educating the public about the importance of oral
      health and the connection between a healthy mouth and overall well-being.

There is also a distinct connection between healthy *feet* and overall well-being, and having my enjoyment and engagement of that hampered for the sake of my mouth makes no sense at all.

Again, I do fully realize that such business-practice issues generally fall outside your scope of authority, but I want the existence of this situation and my objection thereto on record. If there is anything that can be done to mitigate this unfounded, frivolous exclusionism and obtain some degree of redress, then I would like to pursue that. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need more information, or with advice on where else to seek useful recourse.

Thank you for your applicable time and concern,