Dental services and medical care are provided free at Annapolis' Stanton Community Center

For the needy, 2 clinics for the price of none

April 19, 2006|By JONI GUHNE | JONI GUHNE,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's Wednesday afternoon (or Friday morning). Do you know where your doctor and dentist are?

Several days a week, more than 100 of the area's top docs and dentists volunteer at Anne Arundel Medical Center's Outreach medical and dental clinics, where they provide free health care for the county's neediest residents.

The state-of-the-art dental clinic, which opened last month on the renovated third floor of the Stanton Community Center on Washington Street in the heart of Annapolis, is funded by the Anne Arundel Medical Center Foundation and equipped by donor businesses.

In the planning stages for nearly three years, it joins the 12-year-old Outreach Medical Clinic on the Stanton center's second floor.

"This is a community health center that is offering comprehensive health care to people who can't afford it," said the dental clinic's director, Neil Sullivan, 52, an Annapolis dentist who teaches at the University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore and is chief of oral surgery and dental medicine at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

"They fall outside the health coverage net, people who are at a poverty level of existence," he continued. "These are people who are happy that they have food each day."

Patients pay no fees for any work done at the clinic nor for any referrals to specialists.

The dental clinic only accepts Anne Arundel County residents ages 21 and older. The state provides medical and dental care for people younger than 21 who can't afford coverage, Sullivan explained.

Patients who pass an initial financial screening are given a one-hour appointment with a dental hygienist and a one-hour appointment with a dentist. Patients who require additional care are welcome to make follow-up appointments.

"We're seeing about 20 to 25 people a week," Sullivan said. Clinic hours are 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8:30 a.m. to noon Fridays.

"We're already booked three months out," he said. "That's not too long a wait when you consider that some of the patients have been waiting a lifetime to visit a dentist."

Myra J. Brown, 45, of Annapolis was one of the first patients at the dental clinic and is preparing for her next appointment with a specialist. As a result of decay and gum disease, she has to have some extractions and dentures.

When discussing her future appointment, she turned to Sullivan and said, "Put me first on the list."

The clinic is looking for a dental lab willing to donate the dentures. "Show me how," said Brown enthusiastically, "and I'll help [make the dentures]."

On a recent Friday, volunteers alphabetized files and tidied up the dental clinic office. Lynn Calloway of Crofton has a background in dentistry, Cheryl Parrella of Annapolis is a former social worker and Johnnie Slay of Annapolis is a computer specialist.

Speaking for all the volunteers, Slay said she works at the clinic because "It's the right thing to do."

Finding dentists to volunteer wasn't like pulling teeth.

"We went to the county dental society and told them about the mission of this clinic. We immediately had 60 volunteers," Sullivan said.

The dentists bring their assistants and hygienists to the clinic. With the volume of response from the dentists, they are asked only to work one or two days a year. The large participation has made it possible to schedule through February.

"It's difficult to put a dental clinic together," Sullivan said. "It's not like putting an exam table in a room; it's very labor-intensive. [You need] a hygienist, a dental assistant, chairs with water, X-rays, drills."

National companies stepped up, with dental supply company Sullivan-Schein providing nearly $60,000 worth of the latest equipment and a representative to work with the planning team to furnish the renovated space.

"The thing we're really pinching ourselves about," said Bill West, director of community health and wellness services for Anne Arundel Medical Center, "is [the clinics] have been a tremendous collaboration: the city, the old building [which the city owns], a tap on the shoulder of some architects that work at the hospital."

The Outreach Medical Clinic, directed by Dr. Michael Freedman, an Annapolis internist, has about 5,000 contacts with patients a year, West said. There are 22 free clinics each month, open Tuesday through Friday on a rotating schedule: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 9 a.m. to noon Fridays.

On the first Monday each month, the outreach center hosts the county Health Department and Johns Hopkins HIV clinic. Patients are seen at the primary clinic and can proceed to on-site specialty clinics.

These focus on a wide range of illnesses, such as diabetes, HIV, and dermatological, obstetrical or gynecological conditions. There is also a weekly psychiatric clinic, he said.

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