CLEVELAND - An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation has uncovered dozens of Ohio doctors and dentists who have stuck taxpayers with their student loan bills.
We found 108 Ohio medical professionals who have judgments against them for defaulting on government-backed student loans.
The defaulted borrowers owe the U.S. government between $3,959.27 to $472,029.97 stemming from loans they received through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program.
The Health Education Assistance Loan Program (HEAL) insured loans made by participating lenders to 157,388 aspiring medical professionals between 1978 and 1998.
A total of 3,636 medical professionals in the U.S. have defaulted on loans they received through the HEAL program and are excluded from Medicare, according to David Bowman, a communications officer for the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The most serious cases are listed online and includes medical professionals who practice in northeast Ohio, including Patricia Petroff-Kline. Check out the list here: http://on.wews.com/VMOrda
According to HRSA records, the Akron dentist owes $209,143.07 stemming from six student loans she received to attend Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.
Federal court records say Petroff-Kline failed to comply with several government requests to set up a repayment plan.
When NewsChannel5 investigators questioned Petroff-Kline outside her dental office at 2800 South Arlington Rd., she said she did not receive the full amount of loans she has been ordered to pay back.
"My student loans are paid back," she said.
"I think what needs to be clarified is what was received, if anything was received, what was borrowed, if anything was borrowed, and what the whole process is when it comes to education," said Petroff-Kline.
Federal courts records say Petroff-Kline has paid $32,281.07.
Chiropractor James Krystosik is also listed on the HEAL defaulted borrowers online list. Dr. Krystosik operates the Other Side of Medicine Health Center at 163 E. Aurora Rd. in Northfield, Ohio.
The online list says Dr. Krystosik owes $185,457 for student loans he received to attend Life University in Marietta, Ga. Krystosik said he has "paid at least $60,000 of my loans" and that he is in the process of working out a plan to repay the entire amount.
"I actually went through a divorce and I've had hard times, like many other people," he said.
NewsChannel5 also obtained a list of all of the HEAL defaulted borrowers in Ohio. It shows Chardon podiatrist Gladys de Leon owes $181,222.23. Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said there are no records that deLeon has repaid her loans.
de Leon attended the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine. de Leon and her husband operate Foot & Ankle Specialists of Ohio. They have offices in Chardon, Concord, Mentor and Willoughby.
"My husband and I started our practice just hanging out a shingle so it's been taking us time to pay those back," she said when questioned by NewsChannel5 investigators outside her Chardon office.
"Our office burned down and we had all this other stuff happen to us and that really isn't anything that has anything to with you," she said.
NewsChannel5 investigators spoke to de Leon again at 7:55 p.m. on Feb. 7, more than three weeks after we requested additional information from her attorney. She said she is repaying her loans and has been for several years.
She also sent us this statement:
"I am currently and have been for years now in a repayment program with a third party lender with whom all my undergraduate and postgraduate loans are consolidated. I make monthly payments directly debited from my account and this information was provided to you by myself and by my attorneys. I have also been in contact with HRSA officials over the last few weeks and most recently today, who have confirmed over the phone and by email they do not have any information that I am in default and your information is incorrect."
The only documentation NewsChannel5 has received from de Leon's attorneys are two e-mails.
On Jan. 15, attorney Todd Hicks sent this e-mail:
"I want to make it clear that while Dr. de Leon has outstanding student loans, her loans are not in default and she is in good standing with the Lender. Given these facts, I don't believe there is anything newsworthy or of substance concerning Dr. de Leon's student loans. She is highly respected podiatrist and provides valuable services to her patients."
On Feb. 7, attorney Brandon Dynes forward NewsChannel5 this e-mail that was originally sent to de Leon:
"Per our conversation earlier today, 02/07/2013, I can verify that we here, at the Bureau of Clinician Recruitment and Service Division of the National Health Service Corps have no record of you being in one of our Loan Repayment Programs." - John G. Information Specialist Bureau of Clinician & Recruitment Customer Care Center
"For those who have the have the ability to pay and are choosing not to, that is a disappointment in our profession and in any profession," said Lili Reitz, the executive director of the Ohio State Dental Board.
However, Reitz said the dental board cannot discipline deadbeat dentists.
"We have no jurisdiction currently with respect to defaulting on student loans," she said.
The Ohio State Medical Board and Ohio State Chiropractic Board also do not discipline medical professionals for defaulting on student loans.
NewsChannel5 investigators presented our findings to Ohio Rep. Christina Hagan (R-District 50).
"This debt should certainly be brought full circle and ensured that it's not on the taxpayers' backs," she said.
"When you brought this information to us, we started researching immediately and looking into the deeper issue," she said.
Hagan says she may introduce legislation to make sure deadbeats pay back what they owe taxpayers.
The issues hits close to home for Hagan. While serving as a representative in the Ohio legislature, she has also served customers at a Canton restaurant. The 24-year-old legislator waitresses to pay off $70,000 she owes in student loan debt.
"I would never want my debt to become my family's debt or anyone else's debt," she said.
- Interactive map showing deadbeat doctors: http://on.wews.com/VKoIFH
- Interactive timeline showing evolution of Health Education Assistance Loan Program: http://on.wews.com/W0ZNKG
UPDATE: OH Rep. Christina Hagan (R-District 50) says she is drafting legislation to crack down on deadbeat doctors and dentists. Hagan says her proposal would give state boards the power to suspend and revoke the licenses of doctors and dentists who fail to repay their student loans. The defaulted borrowers would have up to six months to set up repayment plans after receiving notice from the state regarding their HEAL delinquency. Medical professionals whose licenses are suspended would have to make three monthly loan payments before a license suspension could be lifted. If they do not respond to notices to repay their loans within one year, state board would be allowed to revoke their licenses. Rep. Hagan says this is a preliminary proposal and she will fine tuning the details as she continues to work on the legislation.
For more information on this update, watch NewsChannel5 at 6 p.m. Friday.