'We're all about overcoming barriers'
November 28, 2016
Honorees: The Walker Methodist Dental team includes, from left to right, Vicki Cornelius, dental assistant; Dr. Steve Shuman, program director, University of Minnesota School of Dentistry & Walker Methodist; Leonora Thompson, clinic coordinator; and Candace Forchay, dental hygienist.
— In 1984, when Dr. Stephen Shuman was two years out of dental school, he began working at a county health department in Illinois to provide dental care for nursing home residents and developmentally disabled adults. But he'd never had specific training in treating these patients.
"I quickly realized how little I knew about caring for people with special needs," he said. "Sometimes I didn't know where to begin."
These days, Dr. Shuman's work as faculty director of the geriatrics program at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, in collaboration with the Walker Methodist Health Center in Minneapolis, helps ensure that newly graduated dental professionals are better equipped to care for patients with special needs.
In October, Shuman and the health center were recognized with the 2016 Innovation Award from LeadingAge, the national association of more than 6,000 nonprofits representing the entire field of aging services and dedicated to expanding possibilities and advocacy for the aging.
The health center was honored for enhancing access to oral health care for older adults and for fostering geriatric education for university students.
"To a large degree that's what drives me — I don't want dental professionals to be in the situation I was in when I came out of school, facing patients with challenges I didn't understand and couldn't manage," Dr. Shuman said.
The Walker Methodist Dental Clinic, located at Walker Methodist's Minneapolis senior housing campus, opened its doors in 2006 in partnership with the University and with grant support from the Minnesota Department of Health.
During its first year, the clinic served 337 patients. By 2016, it had served 2,300 patients while training more than 300 dental professionals in geriatric care, according to Dr. Shuman. The center accepts Medicaid, but also offers unrestricted access to care. Dr. Shuman said about $900,000 in uncompensated dental care has been provided since the clinic's opening. It is open to the entire community, and it's a place that aims to be welcoming to everyone, he said. Along with its specially trained staff, the clinic has resources such as bigger dental operatories, airlift dental chairs, and mechanical lifts, among other special features.
The clinic not only provides hands-on training for University of Minnesota students, but also opportunities for practicing professionals to continue their education through the U-M School of Dentistry's Oral Health Services for Older Adults Program. For example, the school offers a 32-hour, intensive mini-residency for dental professionals to learn how to provide better geriatric care and serve in long-term care environments.
"This training aspect of the clinic is key to improving oral health care for the aging," Dr. Shuman said, acknowledging the challenges of caring for patients with dementia, physical disabilities, on hospice care, and people with complicated drug regimens or other significant medical issues.
"We're all about overcoming barriers to care and it's important for students to see what kind of strategies and tactics we have to help them treat these patients effectively," he said.
The clinic recently doubled its clinical and education capacity by adding two new dental operatories (it now has four), along with lab, sterilization and conference space to increase community access to comprehensive dental care for the elderly and educational opportunities for students. The Minnesota Department of Health, Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, Otto Bremer Trust of St. Paul and Minneapolis' Stevens Square Foundation all contributed grants for the expansion, in addition to support provided by Walker Methodist and the university.
On Oct. 31, the clinic, including Dr. Shuman, received its award from LeadingAge at a ceremony in Indianapolis. In a story announcing the honorees, LeadingAge magazine called the clinic's success "a clear example of how collaboration, innovation and commitment to improving the quality of life for older adults also advances the missions of the organizations involved and can serve as a practical model for others."
For more information about the mini-residency at the University of Minnesota, visit the website
For more information about Walker Methodist Health Center and dental clinic, click here
The ADA's online continuing education course, Dentistry in Long-term Care: Creating Pathways to Success, can help dental professionals expand their practice to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior centers.