The elephant in the room: Battling the emotional toll of embezzlement in the dental practice


It happens all over the country, every day, to two-thirds of all businesses. Some business owners are aware of it … others will probably discover it soon. What is happening? There is a rogue employee who has decided to pull a bit of extra funds out of the office’s bank account and into his or her own account. Let’s take it out and give it a name – it’s called fraud, misappropriation of funds, or by its more common name ... embezzlement!

Has embezzlement occurred in your dental practice? If it has, chances are there is a lot of confusion and discord happening in the office and no one knows what to do. When something like this occurs, it has a profound effect on the entire practice. Most people do not know what to do or even where to start.

Depending on how the embezzlement was found and where you are in the process, there are many steps that will need to be taken:

There will be an investigation

The embezzler may or will be let go

The police are called

The prosecutor will be contacted

All kinds of craziness begins happening within the practice walls.

What is not addressed (and quite often never talked about) is how this awful event affects the dynamics of the team. The systems in the office will need to be reviewed and refined. There are many emotions occurring that no one knows how to handle, nor has anyone taken the time to consider.

It’s high time we pulled the elephant out from under the rug and begin the conversation. What emotions are associated with the embezzlement?

DISTRUST - It is right and natural to feel this way. If you are the doctor, someone just stole your money. For the doctor and/or team members, you just found out a trusted friend has stolen money from your place of business. This is very disconcerting; something you do not want to believe is possible. No one trusts anyone nor does anyone feel trusted.

SADNESS - There is a sense of loss in the practice. Someone that has been a co-worker and quite possibly a friend is now gone. More than likely, it was the office go-to person, so the feeling of loss is prevalent.

CONFUSION - What do you do now? How will you find out how much money was taken? How it was taken? How will you prevent it from happening again? Which patient accounts were affected? How will you correct the errors?

FEAR - Could this happen again? What if someone else is stealing or starts stealing? How will I know? It is the fear of the unknown because you never thought this would happen in the first place.

ANGER - You are mad … and rightfully so! Someone stole your hard-earned money. Everyone thinks this just pertains to the doctor, but it really affects everyone. For the team members, you may have had a bonus or bigger bonus if not for this embezzler. There may have been more money for a raise. You may have been able to get that new equipment you all would like to have in the office. It truly affects everyone!

EMBARRASSMENT - You really do not want anyone to know because it looks like you were not taking care of your business. Could you have done something to prevent it? Remember, this is happening in three out of five dental offices across the country. You are not alone. Don’t be embarrassed.

VULNERABILITY - You never thought this person would be capable of committing a crime. How could you not see it? What else is happening that you do not know about?

The embezzlement has happened. This is the time for the entire team to lock arms and tackle the fear, sadness, confusion, and anger together. There will be more questions than answers at first and the team needs to know how to explain to patients where the missing employee went and why patients have a balance when they swear that they paid on their accounts. The elephant needs to be front and center in all team meetings. Together, you can handle all the craziness that is about to take place, while you still focus on patient care.

In the next article, we will discuss that there is hope and you can rebuild. Stay tuned!

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