Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic Still Conducting Emergency Dental Services

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.

Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau Meal Distribution Program

When recent school and business closures created a crisis for the food-insecure residents of Jackson County, the Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau (BGCP) immediately organized a meal distribution program with local restaurants to identify and deliver food to those in need.  Starting with the families in its network, BGCP began serving an average of 150 meals per night during the first week of operation.  Several restaurants joined the effort. With this infrastructure now in place, the program will expand to serve as the hub for other established community service partners to order meals and meet the food needs of local children and adults who would otherwise go hungry.

Mountain Area Health Education Center Test Swabs on 3D Printers and Supply Distribution

Kacey Scott in Face Shield

Mountain Area Health Education Center and UNC School of Medicine Asheville student, Kacey Scott, have been working with area funders to purchase resin cartridges and sterile packaging to make test swabs on 3D printers (working w/ MAHEC dental residents and UNC Asheville faculty and students). Kacey and 20 fellow medical students are also helping with distribution of supplies, and they are producing over 600 test swabs a day. Some of these swabs will be used for tests administered at MAHEC and some will be distributed to other testing sites throughout WNC. Kacey, as well as other MAHEC and UNC learners, have been amazing and have shown tremendous initiative and creativity in their efforts to make PPE and other materials to help our community respond to this crisis!

Blue Ridge School and Early College hire a School Nurse and a School Social Worker


Before funding was made available by the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, Blue Ridge School and Early College was faced with the difficult task of meeting the needs of their student’s physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing without a school nurse or a school social worker.  While the courageous teachers were glad to help their students in any way, much of their time was spent attending to the healthcare needs of their students, taking them out of the classroom.

With a grant from the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, Blue Ridge School and Early College was able to hire a School Nurse and a School Social Worker.  By mid-February there were a total of 845 Nursing Encounters and 515 Social Work Encounters.

These encounters are keeping our students in the classroom by providing them the opportunity to see a nurse or social worker AT school rather than having a parent leave work, losing a day of pay, to take their child to a medical appointment.

COVID-19 Report

A message from Dr. Tracie Metz (Blue Ridge Early College Principal) and Teri Walawender (Principal Blue Ridge School):

There has not been a moment when we have not had the resources and/or the staff to take care of the needs of our students and families, and we are beyond grateful to our Blue Ridge community and our Glenville/Cashiers community at large.

Highlights include the following:

  • Each day, we are sending home over 200 packages that include breakfast and lunch. This requires a minimum of 14 essential staff to prepare, package and distribute meals each day on our buses—5 for food preparation, and three for each of our three buses. We are serving well over a 1000 packages each week and are adding additional meals to support two meals for every day of the week.
  • Our nurse and social worker have been instrumental in filing in the gaps for families in need, including facilitating medical appointments, which sometimes includes gas cards for appointments, and providing additional support for a variety of family concerns.

Blue Ridge School and Early College has created these online resources:

Inaugural Grant Ceremony