Dentist makes house calls to jails

HAVE DRILL, WILL TRAVEL

August 15, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- The piercing sound reverberating from Room 145 at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center comes from a drill -- not in the hands of a prisoner attempting an escape, but in those of a dentist on a weekly visit to fill cavities.

Dr. Larry Caplin, a Philadelphia dentist, began his weekly visits last month after Frederick officials decided it made more sense to bring an oral surgeon and his portable equipment in rather than cart handcuffed and shackled inmates out of the institution.

Frederick's efforts have caught the attention of money-conscious detention centers elsewhere in Maryland, including neighboring Carroll.

"We're getting calls from all over the state," said Frederick Chief of Corrections Barry L. Stanton. "Everybody wanted [Frederick] to try it first. I guess we're the guinea pig."

Frederick officials believe Dr. Caplin's visits will save the county thousands of dollars in overtime and transportation costs.

Until last month, two deputies escorted each inmate to a local dentist for fillings or other minor work. Visits were made during lunch hours or late afternoons and usually took up to 90 minutes, including travel time.

"Public safety is also a big concern," Chief Stanton said. "We're freeing manpower, cutting overtime and increasing public safety. wife goes to the dentist, and it bothers the hell out of me that inmates could show up at a dental office she's at."

Dr. Caplin, 28, began "filling and pulling" at detention centers three years ago. Besides the Frederick visits, Dr. Caplin and other dentists make weekly trips to seven New Jersey facilities.

"We're talking to Carroll County -- they seem very positive about what we're doing," Dr. Caplin said. "We're also negotiating with counties in Western Maryland. I think we're filling a need in small counties."

Dr. Caplin and Frederick officials said his services are less expensive than having the county buy its own dental equipment, maintaining it and paying a dentist's salary.

Paul S. Hastmann, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Correctional Standards, said Maryland's larger counties either have dentists on staff or contract for weekly visits. Rural counties are more likely to transport inmates to dentists, he said.

"Prisons with stable populations have more formal and structured dental programs," Mr. Hastmann said. "Carroll is on the cusp of being a bigger jail that would go into medical contract services. Once they get 150 inmates or more they tend to contract for medical services."

The population of the state's 24 detention centers ranges from 3,000 in Baltimore to 40 in Garrett County. Frederick has about 200 inmates, and Carroll has 89.

Capt. Steven Turvin of the Carroll County sheriff's department -- said that although Carroll officials were impressed with Dr. Caplin, the county's inmate population didn't warrant in-house visits yet.

Dr. Caplin comes to Frederick every Thursday with a portable X-ray machine, drills, cleaner, a sterilizer and X-ray developer.

The dentist fills cavities and pulls teeth while inmates sit in a barbershop-style chair usually reserved for haircuts. Dr. Caplin doesn't do root canals or caps, or clean teeth. "I do a lot of tooth-pulling," he said.

Carol Charles, Frederick's director of inmate services, said the county paid $17,000 in dental fees last year. That figure doesn't include money spent to pay deputies' overtime and transportation costs. Dr. Caplin charges on a per-service basis -- $60 to pull a tooth and $45 to fill a cavity.

Mr. Stanton said the dentist "has a good reputation," and inmates are already lining up for his services.

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