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Dean of dentistry at UBC says alleged fraud will not affect clinics

File photo of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Hadani Ditmars

Any programs that may have been affected by alleged financial irregularities at University of British Columbia's faculty of dentistry will be "restored financially," the head of the school has promised.

In a message sent to community clinics Wednesday, UBC dean of dentistry Charles Shuler referred to a continuing investigation into possible financial irregularities in the faculty and told community partners that patient care and education would not be affected.

"Please be assured that the Faculty will investigate this thoroughly and any affected programs will be restored financially," the e-mail stated.

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"I also want to assure you that we have taken all necessary steps to ensure that the present issue has not affected the Faculty's delivery of patient care and education."

Dr. Shuler's message to community clinics followed news reports, and a UBC statement, Wednesday about alleged financial irregularities in the general practice residency program.

RCMP are in the early stages of an alleged fraud investigation involving up to $5-million. Details of the alleged financial irregularities have not been disclosed, but UBC says the possible impropriety involves the general practice residency program.

In that program, a small number of postgraduate dentists – typically a dozen or fewer – from across the country train at UBC-affliated hospitals and clinics.

Those clinics, according to information on the program's website, include one in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, one in Haida Gwaii and one in each of Vietnam and Cambodia.

Dentists in the program do rotations in the sites as part of their education.

Over the past few months, there has been confusion and disarray at the Skidegate Dental Clinic in Haida Gwaii, Skidegate band council health worker Lauren Brown said on Thursday.

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"The band council has concerns about how the clinic has been run and we are frustrated by an ongoing lack of communication and response from UBC," Ms. Brown said in an e-mail.

The clinic has a lengthy waiting list, with many urgent cases, she added.

UBC contacted Skidegate Band Council last November to let the band know of concerns relating to administration of the general practice residency program, UBC spokeswoman Lucie McNeill said.

"They [Skidegate] were told that we were making administrative changes to the program," Ms. McNeill said. "It was essentially a heads-up: 'We have some concerns, we are making some administrative changes, we are determined to get to the bottom of whatever problem we think there might be, and if needed, we would co-operate with police. However, we are committed to the program.'"

The most recent annual report posted for the clinic on the faculty's website dates back more than a decade, to 2003.

According to that report, the clinic was involved in community outreach work that included presentations on dental care, snacking and smoking cessation. It had program funding of nearly $400,000.

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The Downtown Eastside clinic is based in the Sunrise Hotel and is operated by PHS, a non-profit agency whose management team was terminated in March after spending concerns flagged in two audits: one conducted by KPMG for B.C. Housing and the other carried out by Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

The Downtown Eastside clinic serves about 3,000 clients a year and is funded by Vancouver Coastal Health as well as by a grant from UBC, an interim spokeswoman said Thursday.

UBC notified the RCMP of its concerns in February. The university is co-operating with the police investigation.

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