UNLV official comes through

Sometimes, things get screwed up.

The bigger the organization, the higher the chance of a screw-up.

It is some sort of law of nature.

Anita Ehrensaft knows this. She knew it going in.

That makes it all the more delightful for her that the people responsible for screwing up in her situation have not only owned up to it but have promised to fix it.

How unusual, right?

"People do things wrong, and they don’t bat an eyelash," said Ehrensaft, 64. "And all of a sudden, here comes this guy who says there’s a bad thing that happened. He says, ‘I don’t want any part of that. I won’t run a school like that.’ "

She is talking about the folks who run the clinics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Dental School, where Ehrensaft has been a patient.

Michael Sanders, chairman of the school’s department of clinical sciences, admitted that the school didn’t deal with Ehrensaft’s problems as well as it should have.

And he promised to fix it.

"She should not have been given the sense that she was being summarily dismissed," he said.

It all started decades ago for Ehrensaft. She has had migraine headaches for most of her adult life. She did everything she and her doctors could think of to control them.

She takes a handful of medicine every day, which helps. But it also might have led to her other problems: chronic cavities.

She has had too many fillings, extractions and root canals to count.

About 15 years ago, back problems forced her husband, Gene, from his job as a controller-treasurer. The couple moved to Las Vegas.

They survive on Social Security disability income. They have no dental insurance.

About four years ago, a dentist told Ehrensaft that he could fix all of her dental problems. It would cost $48,000. And no, there was no payment plan.

Ridiculous, of course, for someone in her situation.

Someone suggested the dental school, where student dentists perform most basic procedures. The cost is generally far less than in the private sector.

Sanders said the school’s clinics treated 39,000 patients last year.

During the past four years, Ehrensaft has been one of them. She underwent a complicated treatment plan, which included fillings and extractions, partial dentures and crowns. She’s gotten more than $3,000 worth of treatment so far.

She was generally happy with her treatment and especially liked the student dentists.

But, last month, one of the professors was looking over her work. The professor pointed out that a partial denture that the school had implanted two years ago was supposed to be temporary.

She labeled Ehrensaft’s problems too complex for students at the school.

Ehrensaft didn’t think that was part of the original plan. She complained about that and some other, less serious issues she was having with her treatment. She got nowhere. She and her husband complained more. They reached the school’s patient advocate, who they thought gave them the runaround.

They couldn’t get any help from anyone. They felt defeated.

They called the newspaper, expecting some sort of expose on the shoddy treatment they’d received. They wouldn’t have been surprised if school officials had denied doing anything wrong.

What they got, instead, was an immediate apology.

"He apologized profusely," said Gene, 65.

Officials promised to take care of Ehrensaft’s problems, the couple said.

Sanders, the clinical sciences chairman, said miscommunication at the school led to the couple’s problems. He said the problem should have been referred up from the patient advocate once it was clear the Ehrensafts were not satisfied. He called that a mistake and said it never should have happened.

He did not make excuses; he said with 39,000 patients a year, this sort of thing does happen from time to time.

But he said he understands the couple’s dilemma — that Anita needs complicated care but cannot afford to go elsewhere. He said the school will either get her into its faculty practice or work something else out.

"We’re going to deal with that dilemma," he promised.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@review journal.com or 702-383-0307.

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