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"Whistleblower": Former employees take on pediatric dental chain when they suspect the company of wrongdoing

Preview of "Whistleblower" series premiere
"Whistleblower": Former employees say pediatric dental chain used unsafe practices 05:08

What would you do if something just felt wrong at work? If you feared people could get hurt? Would you have the courage to blow the whistle?  

Whistleblowers often risk their own safety to right a wrong they feel they witnessed.  A new CBS series called "Whistleblower" tells the stories of heroic people who put everything on the line to expose wrongdoing. It is hosted by attorney Alex Ferrer, a former police officer and judge.

In the series premiere, airing tonight at 8/7c, Ferrer introduces people who blew the whistle on pediatric dental chain Kool Smiles. The former employees believe unsafe practices were used on young patients. 

"I lived in fear every day … what I would face," says Dr. Rai.

"I was scared. Did I think something might happen? You never know when money's involved," says Dr.  Michael Greenwald.

It's David vs. Goliath. "It's a huge corporation. The intimidation is there," says Rai.

Kool Smiles is a  nationwide corporation with more than 120 clinics

Kool Smiles is a massive nationwide corporation with more than 120 clinics catering to kids.

"I was a dentist and I saw … unnecessary procedures, children being traumatized," says Rai. "I was stressed to my eyeballs."

"They're taking advantage of little kids," says Greenwald. "They were doing baby root canals on teeth that could've had regular fillings."

"I would hear children crying at work. All day," Rai tells Ferrer.

An online job posting caught the eye of Greenwald.

"Kool Smiles typically targeted … recipients of Medicaid," he explains. "I thought it was just, wow, this is a great idea. We're treating children. …They're underserved. We're gonna do some good."

Unlike Greenwald, who had 30 years of dentistry under his belt, Kool Smiles recruits were mostly young, inexperienced dentists and recent immigrants. Dr. Rai was one of them.

"It was a dream job," she says.

"What did they offer you as a starting salary?" Ferrer asks.

"The total package was $180, 000,"Rai replies.

Dentists Dr. Michael Greenwald, left, and Dr. Rai, blew the whistle on their former employer CBS

But it was a deal with the devil.  

Greenwald describes his first impression of working at Kool Smiles as "production."

"Like a mill?" asks Ferrer.

"Like a mill. It's -- chicken nuggets [laughs] getting produced down a conveyor belt," Greenwald explains.

Greenwald says corporate owners dictated the work to be done. "So each tooth went from a $30, $40 filling to a $500 gain," he explains. "It was money. It was production."

Greenwald says demands at Kool Smiles were dangerous.

"The faster you work, the sloppier you can get.  …And you run the risk of injuring the child," he tells Ferrer. "I diligently maintained some records of names, dates, times, procedures. … I wanted to stop this. It was insane, pick on someone your own size."

The stakes could not have been higher. Greenwald says he feared someone could get hurt.

911 dispatcher:  911, what is the address of your emergency.

Caller: I am at Kool Smiles.

911 dispatcher: You need police or medical?

Caller: Medical.

Kool Smiles said in a statement the company follows "the guidelines from the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Treatment is provided only after conducting a consultation and obtaining the informed, written consent of the patient's parent or guardian."

Asked about that 911 call and the status of the child during an appearance on "CBS This Morning,"  Ferrer tells CBS News' Bianna Golodryga, ""Sadly, the child died a few days after getting -- a dental procedure performed at Kool Smiles. I do want to point out  the death of the child was years after the whistleblower's lawsuit was started, but the parents are in the process of suing Kool Smiles."

"And the doctors clearly were fearful about coming forward," Golodryga notes.  "What happened with those whistleblowers?"

"All whistleblowers go through a long and stressful journey – they lose their jobs and most of the time they are blackballed in the industry and never work in the industry again. Very often they lose friends," Ferrer explains, describing the process as difficult.

"It's one of the reasons why we want to showcase whistleblowers.  They really are heroes and they do this because they know it's the right thing to do. These particular dentists are still working as dentists."

Ferrer says there is a silver lining.

"There is a law that allows the government to reward the whistleblowers who come forward by paying them a percentage of what the government recovers – and that can be substantial," he explains. "We have whistleblowers who are paid millions and millions of dollars for doing the right thing. They don't go into it for that reason of course. Hey go into it because they want to do the right thing."

"Whistleblower" airs Fridays at 8/7c on CBS.

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