JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mental competency of an embattled pediatric dentist facing 11 counts of Medicaid fraud has been called into question.
The prosecution and defense in the case of Dr. Howard S. Schneider, 78, each hired medical experts to diagnose Schneider, who has pleaded not guilty to those charges and one count of scheme to defraud.
Schneider's trial was set to begin June 13, but the expert hired by the defense said he's not competent to stand trial, and until that issue is settled the trial has been postponed. The prosecution's medical expert disagreed with the defense expert's assessment.
Both sides have agreed to hire a third medical expert, a neuropsychiatrist from Lake City, who will essentially be the deciding factor in whether Schneider will stand trial.
The state claims the pediatric dentist billed Medicaid hundreds of thousands of dollars for procedures he didn’t actually perform. Parents claim that Schneider abused children.
John Phillips, an attorney representing dozens of past patients, said he and his clients are watching Schneider's criminal case closely. He said he wants to know if Schneider is proven to have mental health issues, how long he had them, and if he had them while he was practicing as a dentist.
Schneider's mental competency for the criminal trial could be an issue in the multiple civil lawsuits filed against him.
“The civil case and criminal case are different. The criminal case would be put on hold (if he's determined mentally incompetent), and if it’s Alzheimer's, it may be put on hold indefinitely,” Phillips said. “In the civil case, he may not be able to testify, but it almost enforces the claim in our mind of some degree of incompetence. It depends on when we can prove that happened. He’s even got an auto case against him, and this is holding up his auto wreck case, his foreclosure case, his divorce case, so there’s several cases pending against him.”
Phillips said he questions how severe any mental deficiency might be considering Schneider’s history since the story came to light.
“There’s been lapses that we’ve seen, driving around town, and at the zoo recently, and doing things that everybody does,” Phillips said.
Schneider remains free on $110,000 bond and is now living in St. Simons Island, Georgia. The next hearing in his criminal case will be June 28.
Parents report abuse by dentist
Included in the state's evidence gathered for the fraud case are nearly a dozen similar accounts from parents telling investigators what they and their kids experienced in Schneider’s office:
"That man doctor threw me."
"He choked me and pulled my teeth."
"They’re lying to you."
The Office of the Attorney General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit interviewed them as a part of its investigation of the dentist. Parents of Schneider's patients recounted hearing screams, children injured during procedures, and children getting procedures the parents didn't even know about.
Parents reported their children's lips were bruised, their kids were very scared, and one patient was found face down on the floor.
One parent told investigators they took their child to Schneider's office for a procedure they were told would only take 30 minutes. After three hours, the parent went to the window three times, and an assistant finally said there was an incident.
When the parent was finally able to see the child, the child was hyperventilating and had marks, scratches and blood all over.
According to one document, Schneider’s assistant told the person the child was on a papoose board and, “We stepped out, came back and (he/she) was face first on the floor.”
But the child had a different story, telling investigators: “They’re lying to you. That man doctor threw me and that lady picked me up when I was on the board, and she was laughing at me and sat on me and choked me.”
The parent told investigators, “I saw that my baby was missing all (his/her) teeth.”
The documents also include what experts told investigators about Schneider, including:
- His consent form is too general, and he should get consent from parents before performing additional procedures.
- His charts had poor progress notes.
- The quality of work performed on the patients was low and below standards of care.
- The type and amount of sedation that Schneider was using on the children was very mild and would not be strong enough for a child 3 years or older.
One dentist who treated patients after they had seen Schneider told investigators, "It was like if Dr. Schneider had done crowns, the crown was gone. If Schneider had done a filling, the filling was gone."
Schneider is also facing civil lawsuits from former patients.