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ADA Board tours Chicago clinic

Facility a lesson in collaboration

Just a short motor coach ride from ADA Headquarters, the Association's Board of Trustees started their Monday morning June 15 with a trip to Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood to visit the Erie Family Health Center and its state-of-the-art dental clinic.

"The ADA Board's recent visit to the Erie Family Health Center was a real 'eye-opener' for many of us," said Dr. Ronald L. Tankersley, ADA president-elect. "The Erie Family Health Center represents an outstanding collaboration between policymakers, community health advocates, physicians and dentists with the common goal of providing quality care to the underserved. The synergy of that collaboration maintains the pride and dignity of the patients, physicians and dentists."

Hosted by Erie President and CEO Lee Francis, M.D., the trip to the city's northwest side was planned to acquaint Board members with how dental care fits into the picture at this federally qualified health center.

Erie has community clinics at nine Chicago sites, including three family health centers, three school-based health centers, a teen health center and two dental centers, said Dr. Francis. Its oral health program focuses on dental education and prevention as an important part of its patients' good oral and overall health and most of its patients are women and children.

Under the guidance of its experienced dental director, Dr. Ghassan "Gus" Souri, who oversaw advanced planning for the oral health program, both Erie dental clinics were open within a few months of receiving state funding.

Outside on North Avenue, the morning sunshine showcases the health center. The building, circa 1923, formerly housed a chain drug store in its ground floor. The upstairs still retains several doors with transoms, behind which were "mom and pop" medical and dental offices with small waiting areas to the front and treatment areas to the back.

Young patients and their families have already arrived at the dental clinic, and some children are receiving care as Board members stroll through the sleek, paperless operatories. Patients—both in the operatories and in the waiting room—can watch the clinic's flat screen TVs projecting dancing penguins in the movie "Happy Feet," and most patient communications seem to be in Spanish or a combination of English and Spanish.

"My goal in designing the clinics," said Dr. Souri, "was to offer a welcoming, clean environment. A community health center should be as good or better than the facilities patients would find in a private practice."

Erie opened its first dental clinic in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago in 2005 and the Humboldt Park location opened in 2007. The Humboldt Park clinic staff includes two full-time dentists and a full support staff. The Albany Park clinic staff includes two full-time dentists, one parttime dentist and one full-time dental hygienist. In addition, private practice dentists are contracted at an hourly rate as needed.

Dental students from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry spend three months in rotation at Erie, performing a wide range of preventive and restorative dental procedures under the supervision of a staff dentist.

"From day one, dentists, pediatricians and OB-GYNs have worked together to help our patients have better oral and overall health," said Dr. Souri. "Our physicians offer oral health messages to patients at their medical visits to help educate pregnant women and mothers of young children about the importance of oral health in overall health."

Erie also treats patients with AIDS and HIV—most who have dental problems but no dental insurance, and would otherwise be likely to forgo dental care because they couldn't afford it, said Dr. Francis.

Erie has grown by 70 percent in the past five years, he added. Its revenues in 2008 were about half Medicaid reimbursement (49 percent), supplemented by federal, state, local and private grants (44 percent), and a small amount from self-paying patients, private insurance and Medicare. Most of its patients (84 percent) are Hispanic and two-thirds (67 percent) are best served in Spanish. Most (83 percent) come from households with incomes below the federal poverty line and 37 percent are uninsured.

In May, Erie raised more than $145,000 for its oral health program as well as awareness about the city's oral health needs with its first Golden Toothbrush Awards luncheon. More than 300 corporate, civic and community leaders attended, and Erie honored Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Mary Burgess, Chicago Department of Public Health director of School Based Oral Health, with awards for their work to help find ways to meet the growing oral health needs of local citizens.

"If every dentist had the opportunity to observe, first hand, a community health center so well managed, they would better understand how community health centers can be a valuable part of the solution to the access problem," Dr. Tankersley added. "It's too bad that everyone can't have that experience."

The ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations will host a special course at annual session to help dentists and their staff learn how federally funded health centers work and how private practices can collaborate with them to improve the community's oral health.

The ABCs of FQHCs: Increasing Understanding and Collaboration Between Private Practitioners and FQHCs will be held Oct. 1, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The free 2.5-hour course will be presented by Dr. Skip Homicz, CAPIR member, FQHC dental director, retired private practice dentist and past chair of the Coalition for New Hampshire Oral Health Action; Dr. Jane Grover, past ADA vice president and FQHC dental director in Jackson, Mich.; and Erie's Dr. Francis. Dr. Steve Geiermann, senior manager, Access, Community Oral Health Infrastructure and Capacity for the ADA and former FQHC dental director for People's Health Centers in St. Louis, will moderate. For more details or to register, log on to www.ada.org/goto/session