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Chance meeting leads to launch of pediatric dental clinic in Phoenix

January 20, 2015

By Melissa Schenkman

Staff of the Parsons Center
All smiles: Dr. Kris Volcheck, center, gathers with the staff of the Parsons Center for Pediatric Dentistry at Murphy.
 The new Parsons Clinic
Open concept: The new Parsons Clinic features open bay areas where children wait together between procedures to reinforce behavior modeling techniques.
Phoenix —
A chance meeting of a dentist and a school health and education center director in 2009 is what launched the idea for the Parsons Center for Pediatric Dentistry at Murphy (Elementary School District), which had its grand opening on Oct. 21, 2014. 

The dentist was Dr. Kris Volcheck, the dental director at the Central Arizona Shelter Services Dental Clinic for the Homeless and CASS Dental Clinic for Children at Murphy. The health and education center director was the former superintendent of the Murphy Elementary School District, Paul Mohr, Ph.D. Dr. Mohr, who had plans to build a community health and education center, visited CASS. He was so impressed with the level of care there that he asked Dr. Volcheck to look over the Murphy Center plans and to consider offering that same level of care to children at the new community center. 

Dr. Volcheck, who has been helping the underserved since he became a CASS volunteer in the late 1980s, agreed. The dental clinic started in 2010 as a two-chair dental trailer in the parking lot. Eighteen months later, the clinic moved inside the health center.  And five years after Dr. Volcheck and Dr. Mohr met, the new state-of-the-art clinic opened.

The new center will be the dental home for many of the district’s children, providing hard-to-come-by pediatric restorative care free of charge and the latest in dental technology. 

“It looks like any clinic you would see in Manhattan. It has the top-of-the-line equipment, the latest in technology,” Dr. Volcheck said. “I wanted to give the ultimate care.”

Built from the ground up inside the Murphy Elementary Health and Education Center, the clinic is home to 10 permanent chairs, four open bay chairs, six sedation suites and pre- and post-op rooms. Funding for the facility included a $1.245 million Parsons Foundation grant. Volunteers, including pre-dental students, Lutheran Medical Center of Dental Medicine residents and trained professionals, provide care.

The Arizona Dental Association members have long supported both the CASS and Murphy clinics with volunteer hours. In fact, Dr. Volcheck was named Dentist of the Year by the Arizona Dental Association in 2006.
Dr. Allison House, president of AzDA, has been a volunteer in both clinics. “Both of these programs are excellent models of volunteer engagement providing high quality dental services in a state-of-the-art setting to a population that desperately needs access to oral health care,” Dr. House said.

Parsons is the first nonprofit pediatric specialty clinic in Maricopa County, west of Phoenix. Parsons will serve children with both Arizona Medicaid Coverage and those ineligible for Medicaid.

About 30 patients came to the previous clinic each day. The new clinic now treats more than 50 patients a day and has the capacity to treat 80 patients daily.

By 2017, the new center is projected to provide treatment to 15,000 children and to be financially self-sustaining.

Dr. Volcheck, who spearheaded the plans for the new clinic within the community center, initially became involved with caring for the underserved as a case manager at CASS in the early 1990s. The idea of combining his expertise in dentistry and his passion for serving the homeless came together in late 1999.
“While I was working at the homeless shelter, I happened to find out about a two-chair dental trailer that was available from the state of Arizona for anyone who wanted to assist in an underserved clinic on site, in the park, in the back of the shelter. They said, ‘Yes,’ and so I began,” he said.

The rest is history. Today a full-time staff and a network of over 30 volunteers with Dr. Volcheck’s spirit of service keep his vision and the clinic running.

Over the years, volunteers at the Murphy dental clinic have included local and statewide dentists; dentists from across the U.S. who come during the winter months; and international dentists. Dr. Volcheck anticipates that the new clinic will draw even more volunteers.

“With the new Parsons clinic, the interest in the community of dentists will be much greater. Everyone is attracted by a clinic that offers the very best of everything for the children,” he said.

One such volunteer is Nozar Tarkesh, a pre-dental student who has been volunteering at the CASS Pediatric Dental Clinic since 2012. Mr. Tarkesh has witnessed the transition of the clinic from a trailer to a small part of a local school to the brand new, state-of-the-art clinic. He has been amazed by the program’s transition and thinks that it plays an important role in caring for a population in great need.

“Dental care for kids is important because kids can develop lots of future health issues due to poor dental care in childhood. They are so susceptible, so fragile. We have to take care of them,” Mr. Tarkesh said.
Parsons is designed to make children feel more comfortable in their dental home and to implement behavior modeling. In the open units, there are televisions running cartoons nonstop and children sit with other kids who are waiting to be treated.
The idea, Dr. Volcheck said, is “If one use open bays for doing hygiene, the kids want to look good in front of the other kids, so they will act well and then other kids act well by example.”

As a volunteer and pre-dental student, Mr. Tarkesh has had the opportunity to assist in simple procedures, make kids comfortable about getting treatment and talk to parents.

“At CSDD, the smile of satisfaction that a patient has after their procedures are done is worth more than anything. It’s priceless,” Mr. Tarkesh said.

Mr. Tarkesh, who holds a master’s degree in biomedical sciences and is in the midst of the dental school application process, has been deeply moved by what he has seen while volunteering at the clinic.

“I have learned so much. Now my whole goal has changed. As a public health dentist you get to meet all kinds of people and do all kinds of procedures,” Mr. Tarkesh said. “My goal was to be a general dentist, but now I have this totally different point of view. I want to become a public health dentist.”
But it is both knowledge of the socioeconomics and the inspiration of Dr. Volcheck’s work, exemplified by his words at the center’s grand opening, saying, “I believe the underserved deserve the best,” that stays with Mr. Tarkesh. “Only a man with a heart made of gold can say something like this and stand by it,” he said.
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