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Nearly two years after the DuPage Community Clinic shuttered its dental practice, leaving uninsured patients with few local options, the Chicago Dental Society Foundation Dental Clinic has opened just a mile down the road.
The three-operatory clinic at 416 E. Roosevelt Road, Wheaton, will provide basic dental care to uninsured patients from Cook, Lake and DuPage counties — the same tri-county area served by the Chicago Dental Society — with proof of residency and income below 200 percent of the poverty level.
“When we care for these patients in a dental office early, offering preventative care that keeps them out of pain and out of the ER, everyone benefits,” said dentist Kevin King, one of several Chicago Dental Society members who have worked to open the new clinic and a frequent clinic volunteer. “There’s a significant issue with access to care in Illinois at this time, and we have an opportunity to help those truly in need.
“Volunteering brought the fun back to dentistry for me.” (Learn how you can volunteer at the CDS Foundation Dental Clinic)
The Chicago Dental Society released a report in February which details the poor state of access to care in Illinois. Lake, Cook and DuPage counties lost 12 of 44 public health dental clinics in recent years; that leaves only 32 clinics for the tri-county area, with several lacking a dentist.
At Cook County Department of Public Health clinics, patients routinely wait up to three months for an appointment. And Illinois’ $1.6 billion cut in Illinois Medicaid program in 2012 restricted adult benefits to emergency tooth extractions only.
CDS Foundation chair Milly Goldstein said that the new dental clinic is the fulfillment of the foundation’s mission — but it’s only the beginning.
“The CDS Foundation made a commitment to providing access to care in our communities, and besides making grants, opening a clinic is a clear way to do that,” Ms. Goldstein said. “Our focus in the coming years will be to raise capital and create relationships with other community partners to sustain and hopefully grow the clinic and the dentistry that is provided to the community.”
Plans for a new dental clinic began in March 2011, when the DuPage Community Clinic announced plans to close its dental unit. CDS took possession of the DuPage Community Clinic’s equipment when operations ceased several months later, and put it in storage while the DuPage Community Clinic’s core of dentist volunteers developed plans to open a new clinic that would provide care for the displaced patients, among others.
“At that time, we were seeing reports of a 160 percent increase in the number of working poor in DuPage County,” Dr. King said. Volunteers worked with CDS Foundation Board members and staff to establish the infrastructure required of an independent not-for-profit organization, including a Board of Managers that has responsibility for clinic operations: the build-out, accounting, staffing, and insurance, among other responsibilities.
“Just as we all do with our own offices, the buck stops here as far as absorbing responsibility,” said Board of Managers member Keith Suchy, also a past president of CDS. “We’re all scrutinizing this as we do our own offices.”
Leases were signed, architects were consulted, and in January construction began to renovate the space, install the equipment that had been in storage, and inventory what else was needed to get the clinic open ASAP.
Having opened in late February, today the volunteers are eager to show off the results of this year-long endeavor.
“With three operatories, a lab, X-ray room, reception area, business office and break room, I think it is a place the CDS membership can be proud of. Any clinician can walk in and be proud to work there; our goal was to create that kind of environment,” Dr. King said.
Two paid staff members will ensure continuity within the operations. An adjacent parking lot provides ample space for volunteers and patients alike, but the clinic is also served by a Pace bus line that begins at the Wheaton Metra station
“We want to be sure that families who come to us never feel as if they’re getting charity,” Ms. Goldstein said. “Rather, they are receiving a high quality of care in an environment that is the same as fee-for-service dentistry.”
Drs. King and Suchy are but two of the many volunteers who have invested countless hours in this project, often wondering if the next hurdle would be the one to end their project. But Dr. King said small victories along the way kept them going.
“I think we kept asking ourselves, ‘is it really needed? Is it worth doing?’ and if it was really needed and worth doing, it would be a shame to walk away,” he said. “As a profession I believe we hold ourselves to a higher standard of duty and responsibility for continuing our education and providing back to the profession.”
Dr. Suchy agreed.
“This project has been just as completely all-inclusive as opening a second office of my own, but it’s also an exercise that has been eye-opening and brings me a lot of pride,” he said. “Can you think of a professional association that is addressing the frightful access to care issue as directly as we are? We got frustrated to the point that we put our money where our mouth is and opened a clinic.
“There are several dentists who have long been volunteering their free time – time away from their families – for their communities. Now, we’re taking more of their free time and formalizing that group to form a unique partnership to address these issues in our clinic,” he continued.
He further spoke of pride in the clinic’s partnership with the CDS Foundation. And Ms. Goldstein reciprocated with complements for the volunteers who have lead the charge to open the clinic.
“I applaud their commitment to the community. They recognized that something is wrong and they found a solution. It is our pleasure as a foundation to support CDS members in this way. It makes sense, it provides access to care, and it’s helping us to do the right things.”
However, clinic leaders know they have a lot of fundraising yet to do.
“We have partners in the community and a passionate core of volunteers who are also donors; our partners in the dental trade and others we do business with in the community; and we have our legislators,” Dr. Suchy said. “We need to be ambassadors for the clinic and the CDS Foundation.”
For more information and to volunteer, contact the CDS Foundation Dental Clinic at CDS.Foundation.Clinic@gmail.com or call 630.260.8530.
Ms. Brown is the CDS senior writer.
Email or call 630.260.8530.
Dr. Yihsiung Huang named as 2015 award recipient.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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