During this national emergency, the Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic is doing its part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our mountain communities by postponing all restorative and preventative procedures including filling and hygiene. Concentrating on emergency dental care allows us to care for the community’s emergency patients and alleviate the burden that dental emergencies would place on hospital emergency departments.
Since March 12, 2020, the Clinic has treated 52 patients, performed 161 emergency procedures and conducted nine teledentistry conferences. Thanks to the NC Association of Free and Charitable Clinics as well of the Community Care Clinic of Highlands, we have been provided with PPE as well as the teledentistry system UpDox to safely serve patients in our Cashiers office.
Our patients have been so grateful that we are able to provide emergency services. To paraphrase one patient who posted on social media about her experience:”[The Free Dental Clinic’s] Dr. Michelle [McDonald] went above and beyond to keep me calm and help me relax during the procedure. We are very fortunate to have such professional and caring folks in our community.”
While our usual qualifications for treatment at the Clinic are individuals living at 200% of the Federal Poverty Level in Jackson, Macon, Transylvania, Swain and Haywood counties, we have relaxed these qualifications to have no geographic limits at this time.
Through all of this, we are feeling the economic impact of the pandemic. Out of an abundance of caution, the Free Dental Clinic has postponed its annual spring fundraiser and donor appreciation “All Smiles” party. In doing so, we have also postponed over $50,000 in budgeted income for the Clinic during a time when our patients and staff need us. We have increased our emergency care, but we have also had to decrease our staff due to cash flow shortages. Furthermore, the long-term effects of this income shortage will greatly impact our sustainability through 2020 and perhaps beyond. We have a Urgent Needs GoFundMe Campaign that is helping to provide support: Smiling Through Crisis. We are grateful to have received grants through the Community Foundation of WNC and Kate B. Reynolds (via the NC Association of Free and Charitable Clinics) to assist with our financial needs.
Since its beginning in 2005, the Clinic has performed over 65,000 procedures over 19,270 patient visits with a value exceeding $10 million dollars. Under normal circumstances, hygiene is offered up to four days a week, a staff dentist is employed up to four days a week and 13 volunteer dentists treat patients throughout the year with a focus on restorative and preventative dental care. We serve a clear need in our rural mountain communities.