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CDS Foundation clinic fills a gap for local uninsured

May 09, 2013

Community outreach: The Chicago Dental Society Foundation’s new dental clinic, which opened in February in Wheaton, Ill., serves patients from Cook, Lake and DuPage counties.
Wheaton, Ill.—Filling a void left when the DuPage Community Clinic closed its dental facility in 2011, leaving uninsured patients with few local options, the Chicago Dental Society Foundation has opened a new dental clinic to serve patients in need.

The three-operatory clinic provides 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 Dr. 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.

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. 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.

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 clinic's equipment and put it in storage while the DuPage Community Clinic's dentist volunteers developed plans to open a new clinic.

Open house: Dr. Keith Suchy, right, CDS Foundation trustee, discusses how the new dental clinic helps the community.
“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.

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. We want to be sure that families who come to us never feel as if they're getting charity. “Rather, they are receiving a high quality of care in an environment that is the same as fee-for-service dentistry.”

“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,” said Dr. Keith Suchy, a past CDS president and CDS Foundation trustee. “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,” Dr. Suchy added. “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.”

“I applaud the volunteers” commitment to the community,” Ms. Goldstien said. “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.”