Dentist helps catch thief who stole from his practice

William Gilbert, DDS, and his staff sat in their routine huddle discussing the day ahead and the patients who would be coming in for treatment when a woman entered the front door of his Granite Bay practice. One staff member went out to greet the woman, who indicated she needed to use the restroom. Not wanting to break up the staff huddle, the woman's request was granted and the meeting continued.

Later that day, a staff member discovered her purse was gone and so were the cellphones, wallets and keys of other employees. Instead of the restroom, the woman had made a beeline to the employee lounge and proceeded to use a purse as a "shopping bag" to steal all of the valuable items she could find. She escaped out of the back door.

"I was upset that somebody had entered my office and stole items from my employees. I think as dentists we have paternal instincts for our employees on our turf," Gilbert said. "It was upsetting; it was a violation."

After finishing up with his patients that day, Gilbert called his security camera vendor to help walk him through how to replay the video captured earlier in the day (he had never had to watch the video on his security cameras in the two-and-half years he had owned them). Sure enough, in a matter of 20 minutes he had a clear view of the woman walking into his office and rifling through the employee lounge. Gilbert notified local authorities and posted screenshots of the video on his practice's Facebook page. The post received more than 4,000 shares and eventually helped connect the dots to another local crime. The same woman had been involved in a similar incident at a beauty college in Vacaville. The police were able to trace the stolen car she was using, which eventually led to her arrest. After two weeks, the woman who stole from Gilbert's employees was caught.

"I never imagined that those cameras would someday be used to bring a thief to justice," Gilbert said.

Gilbert moved his practice to its current location two-and-half years ago and when the contractor recommended he install security cameras on the inside of the practice and the exterior, he responded with, "Why?" He wasn't sure why he needed them, but he went ahead and had 16 security cameras installed — they are in the operatories, waiting room, the hallways and, of course, the staff lounge.

"Without those we never would have posted the screenshots on Facebook, which led to connecting to this other crime in Vacaville," Gilbert said.

Dentists consider the use of video surveillance cameras for any number of reasons. According to CDA Practice Support, before purchasing a security system, dentists should consider these alternatives:

• Install locks on the drawers or cabinets where controlled substances, secured prescription forms, petty cash, checks and financial documents are stored.
• Limit the number of employees who have keys to the office. This could mean re-keying the entire office in the event that an employee leaves without returning their assigned keys.
• Place items that either draw attention or have a history of "disappearing" (cashbox, prescription pads, stamps or business checks) in a secure, locked place where only the dentist or the office manager have access.
• Prohibit staff, patients and janitorial service from entering a secured area, such as the dentist's personal office, when not present. Consider locking the private office.

Dentists should also inform all employees, in writing, that cameras are being installed in the office and obtain and keep on file their signed acknowledgement of notification. Dentists do not need their permission. The security cameras should also be included in the practice's employee manual.

Dentists should also inform patients about the cameras. This can be done with a sign in the reception area. If cameras are placed where patients are examined or treated, it is prudent to have patients sign an acknowledgement and release form. A video of a patient undergoing an exam or treatment is considered protected health information under HIPAA and California law, and it must be managed as such. A dentist's HIPAA policies and procedures must address the management of these videos.

Lastly, dentists should consult with their attorney before installing or using a camera to electronically monitor employee or patient activities.

Gilbert and his staff are relieved that justice has been served in this incident, but are still emotionally upset about what occurred. Gilbert hopes his story is a reminder for dentists to take the necessary precautions in their practices.

"I think we kind of assume because our practices are like our castles that they are impenetrable, but that's not so," Gilbert said. "Us good-hearted dentists do so much to protect the well-being of the security and privacy of our patients, I think it is curious we are cavalier about protecting our own belongings."

For more information on installing security cameras in the dental practice, view the Surveillance Cameras: What to Consider Before Installing Them resource on cda.org.

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