Dr. Jan Kippax attends a hearing before the Maine Board of Dental Examiners in Augusta at the end of September.
AUGUSTA — For Dr. Jan Kippax, it all comes down to five cases.
Though the oral surgeon has treated about 97,000 patients during his more than a quarter-century in Lewiston, the Maine Board of Dental Practice is examining the care he provided in 2015 and 2016 for only a handful of them.
By studying their experiences in detail, James Bowie, the assistant attorney general arguing the state’s case in an ongoing hearing, said the five board members who will determine Kippax’s professional fate “may see a pattern emerge.”
Each of the five patients whose complaints were included in the trimmed-down list of charges painted Kippax as a cold, cruel dentist who ignored their blood and pain and resisted pleas for relief.
Bowie urged the panel serving as a sort of jury not to let themselves fall prey to “many attempts to discredit these witnesses” who suffered “unconscionable consequences” from a dentist who failed to follow their wishes, lacked empathy and didn’t give them the respect that everyone deserves.
During the first two days of the hearing last weekend, each of the five witnesses detailed what happened to them. Testimony from experts and others is slated to follow in November, but it’s not clear when the hearing will wrap up.
The board has the power to censure or fine Kippax or pull his license to practice. Last winter, it agreed to suspend him temporarily pending the outcome of the hearing but didn’t move ahead on the proceedings until long after the 30-day suspension expired.
James Belleau, an Auburn attorney representing the dentist, called the panel’s decision to yank Kippax’s license last winter unconstitutional and complained about the case going into hibernation for two months while a cloud continues to hang over him.
He also said, though, that the first two days of the hearing show “how poor the state’s case against Dr. Kippax is.”
That stands in marked contrast to Bowie’s assertion that after listening to the five witnesses, the board will be able to find that Kippax “repeatedly violated the law” through incompetence and a lack of professionalism.
Belleau said the evidence shows that each of the five patients highlighted by the state signed written consent forms before treatment that included a dozen separate items initialed by each.
He said that each agreed on the forms to Kippax’s diagnoses, the anesthesia provided, possible alternatives and more.
“In every case, a medical history questionnaire was filled out and signed by the patient,” the lawyer said, and each time Kippax used the information “as part of his preoperative assessment for pain and with respect to the proper anesthesia.”
Kippax “provided the treatment consented to and pulled the correct teeth,” Belleau said, with two surgical assistants at his side each time. He also provided proper post-operative care, the lawyer said.
Belleau also took a shot at those who investigated the complaints filed about Kippax.
He said “a dental hygienist” — Nancy Foster, who serves on the board but is not among those weighing the evidence — and the panel’s executive director, Penny Vaillancourt, lacked “any dental or medical training” about anesthesia, a key element in most of the complaints.
Belleau pointed out that the board “has no sitting oral surgeon,” merely four dentists, two dental hygienists, a denturist and a member of the public.
Belleau said that Vaillancourt, who declined comment, was “carrying out a single-minded mission to prosecute Dr. Kippax” by urging people to file complaints, determining the course of the investigation, handpicking Foster as the board’s investigator, influencing board decisions and communicating with two earlier hearing officers who stepped down before a hearing could be started.
He said Foster called Vaillancourt an integral part of the committee that looked into the complaints, serving as both a member of the board’s staff and of what amounts to a prosecution team. At every turn, Belleau said, she sought to have the board crack down on Kippax.
Belleau said Vaillancourt sought to have Kippax’s license suspended as long ago as April 2016, 10 months before the 30-day suspension was approved in mid-February this year.
He said she even sat in executive session with the dental board last month when it went behind closed doors to reject Kippax’s motion to dismiss the case, a situation the lawyer compared to having a police detective sitting in a jury room.