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Top staffers at state dental board fired for the second time

The Nevada Board of Dental Examiners terminated its two top staffers for a second time, providing both with undisclosed separation packages.

The newly appointed board voted to immediately terminate “without cause” Executive Director Debra Shaffer-Kugel and general counsel Melanie Bernstein Chapman on Jan. 17.

Previously, state officials had announced the terminations of the two staffers effective Dec. 5, but they inexplicably stayed on and continued running the agency.

This was the first meeting of the new board after six new members were appointed Dec. 20 following a Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation that showed the agency’s lax oversight failed patients.

Both staffers left the meeting after the votes were taken with little discussion. The board would not immediately provide the Review-Journal with copies of their separation agreements.

At the start of the meeting, Chapman read a statement saying she was the victim of unsubstantiated allegations.

“Simply alleging something does not make it true,” she said.

Shaffer-Kugel did not address the board. Both declined comment after the vote.

Board votes

Before the vote, board member Kevin Moore was elected president and member David Lee was elected secretary-treasurer. The board put off a vote on the interim executive director until Saturday, when the meeting was scheduled to continue.

On Nov. 8, state officials announced the terminations and said three members of the board previously accused of ethical lapses were leaving the controversial agency.

Gov. Steve Sisolak declined to reappoint three other board members accused of questionable conduct, so the board canceled meetings and remained dormant.

The governor appoints the 11-member board to oversee the state’s dentists and hygienists. By law, seven members are dentists, three are hygienists and one is a public member. Each member serves for three years, and only the board can hire or fire staffers.

Shaffer-Kugel and Chapman remained as paid employees past the Dec. 5 deadline, despite Sisolak’s anger at Shaffer-Kugel forwarding an anonymous letter linking Sisolak and his staff to board opponents to the Review-Journal and asking whether the paper would investigate the baseless claims.

“The Governor is disappointed that a little over 24 hours before tomorrow’s Executive Branch Audit Committee meeting, where there will be a 6-month report on the audit of the Dental Board that was initiated by Governor Sandoval, the executive director of the Board attempted to push outrageous and false accusations to the media in an attempt to undermine his goal of providing oversight and accountability of this board and all licensing boards in the interest of the health and safety of Nevadans,” his staff wrote in a statement Nov. 6.

Shaffer-Kugel, who received $168,000 in salary and benefits in 2018, and Chapman, who received $156,000 in compensation that year, apparently continued to collect paychecks for more than a month after the board’s termination deadline.

After the December termination date, Shaffer-Kugel even threatened to dismiss a patient complaint because he talked to the Review-Journal about delays in the investigation of his care.

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