A New York-based dental chain unexpectedly shut down operations nationwide because of cash-flow problems, leaving patients without access to their records and offices unreachable by phone or computer.
Patients in states including New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Hampshire reported going to Allcare Dental & Dentures offices for scheduled appointments beginning Monday only to find the doors closed. Closings were also reported in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company had an estimated 38 locations.
Hundreds of employees, meanwhile, wondered whether they would get paid for hours already worked and whether bonuses promised before Christmas would ever arrive.
"Nobody has any answers to anything. Everybody's lost their job so nobody can help you with anything," said Tara Mongold, who worked at the company's call center in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence for more than three years. About 110 people were employed there, she said Tuesday.
Company executives did not respond to phone messages, and the company's primary website was down.
Notices posted on office doors referred patients to an alternate website, which explained that Allcare could not notify patients of the closing in advance because its phone system and computer network had been abruptly shut down by its network provider.
Patients with dental emergencies were advised to call 911. Patient records and unfinished dental work were being transferred to other dentists, the website said.
A notice from Allcare to the New Hampshire Board of Dental Examiners dated Sunday said "the entire company has run out of money, thus rendering it unable to open for business as usual effective Monday."
On the web posting for consumers, the company said its plans to address financial problems by closing underperforming offices while raising capital from an equity group had fallen through, and that attempts to obtain bridge financing also had failed.
"There are no plans at this time to reopen the offices," the posting said. "We want to assure you that this sudden closing situation was not our intent; it was due to circumstances beyond our control that arose very quickly."
Allcare employees said they'd been put on two-week furloughs to save money in mid-December. Mongold said workers returned to the home office Dec. 27 and worked a full day but were sent home the following morning because the power was out.
"We knew something was going on," Mongold said. "Then on New Year's Eve they gave us a call and said the office was closing."
She expressed little hope of collecting a $400 bonus she said was owed to her.
Incorporated in 2001, Allcare, at one time, had 58 locations but had reduced the number through consolidations and closings to improve efficiency, Mongold said.
The New York State Education Department, the dental licensing agency, lists no disciplinary action against Allcare or its principal, Robert Bates of Clarence, a department spokesman said.
Neither Bates nor Chief Executive Officer David Pennington returned calls Tuesday.
In an April 2009 agreement with Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, Allcare agreed to pay $135,000 to settle consumer complaints about deceptive advertising and financing information. Allcare said it disagreed with the claims but settled in the interest of patient satisfaction.
In August, the company was among several health care providers that received subpoenas from then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as part of an investigation into high-interest credit cards offered by providers to finance procedures not covered by insurance. It was unknown Tuesday what, if any, effect, the ongoing probe had on Allcare's business. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office said it was aware of the shutdown and was looking into it.