Several hundred dentists provide needed services throughout the Rio Grande Valley, and one of them owns and manages the largest network of clinics in the South Texas, and perhaps in the Lone Star State.
Dr. Juan D. Villarreal, a Harlingen native who holds a doctor in dentistry from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, has turned the business that he first opened in 1983 on Ed Carey Drive across from Valley Baptist Medical Center into a conglomerate of seven clinics, one of which is in the state capital.
“I started with a staff of two,” he said during a break at Harlingen Family Dentistry, the largest clinic and the headquarters for Villarreal’s wide-ranging practice. “As the time went by, I moved to this current location and began expanding as I saw the need for more dental services.” Today, his main clinic at 1214 Dixieland Road occupies 5,200 square feet and has more than 90 employees.
On the payroll are 11 dentists, eight hygienists, more than 40 dental assistants, office employees and about a dozen others who work in a sort of mini call center where they call insurance companies, among other duties.
In addition to the Harlingen workforce, his operation includes six satellite clinics – one each in Brownsville, McAllen, Pharr, Weslaco, Edinburg, Raymondville and the newest one in northwest Austin. Close to another 90 employees work at the other clinics combined.
So how has a small South Texas dentistry practice evolved into such a large operation, knowing that Texas has a large supply of these health care professionals and that thousands of Valley residents seek less expensive care south of the border? According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there were 12,676 licensed dentists in 2014 out of more than 195,000 dentists nationwide.
Villarreal summarizes his success with these words: hard work, dedication to one’s patients and good ethics. Community involvement is another aspect where the dentist dedicates his time.
He has served as president of the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation board of directors. He has earned a reputation as a philanthropist by helping economically disadvantaged children get better teeth though Dentists Who Care, and he established a scholarship program to reward high school students. He was instrumental in assisting Texas State Technical College in setting up its dental hygienist program.
His Harlingen practice is a busy place full of sophisticated equipment where employees can be seen bustling from one section to the next in the two-story clinic. One side of the building houses the surgery and orthodontic area. In another section is the pediatric department staffed with 12 employees and 12 chairs for tooth-related care for children. In another room, two employees work on computer screens measuring dentures or a single tooth using digital imaging software. Villarreal’s practice also has been at the forefront of incorporating laser technology into the practice, a high-tech advancement they started providing about five years ago.
And in spite of all the growth his practice has experienced and the jobs created, getting to where he is today has not been easy. In 2011, the Harlingen clinic was targeted by the Health and Human Services Commission Office of the Inspector General for “credible allegation of fraud” in connection with Medicaid orthodontic billing. A legal battle followed and it took about four years and more than $1 million in legal expenses before the office was cleared of any wrongdoing. After that ordeal, Villarreal used the experience to author a book titled “Truth Decay.”
His Harlingen practice has several veteran employees such as Dr. Denise Hausenfluck, who has been there for the last 22 years, and Dr. Vivian Teegardin, a 28-year veteran. Gail Thomason, who as public relations director visits schools and meets with other groups to stress the importance of good dental health, said Villarreal has worked a long and hard road.
“He is a caring person,” she said. “His heart is a big as the state of Alaska.”