This week: a special holiday Hummel Report as we take a break from government waste and the multitude of problems in Rhode Island - to profile an organization that over the past two decades has provided millions in free dental work to hundreds of elderly and disabled patients who need it the most. Jim Hummel speaks with the president of the organization and two patients who have benefited from the program.
This week we take a break from government waste and the multitude of things that are wrong in Rhode Island to profile an organization that has given away millions of dollars in free care to hundreds of patients who need it the most.
Dr. Martin Nager is a periodontist with offices in Warwick and Narragansett. He is also the local chapter president of a program called Donated Dental Services, that in 1989 began to provide dental care for elderly and disabled people who had fallen through the insurance cracks. It is part of a national program called the Dental Lifeline Network.
Nager: ``There are people who don't' have jobs or people who are disabled, people who are ill, and they don't necessarily fall under any kind of coverage - Medicare doesn't cover really any dental services for adults and Medicaid services are fairly minimal. So we had a whole population of people out there that really had no insurance and very minimal income and were having a hard time paying for food and paying rent and needed dental services. So that was the birth of this organization.''
Since the program began, nearly 2,500 patients have received $4.1 million in free comprehensive dental care - from 191 of the state's 500 dentists; and 59 dental labs across Rhode Island.
Nager: ``We treat people treat people like they are anybody else that walks in the door. If a patient walks in that's a Donated Dental Services patient and they see a general dentist and that dentist decides they need to have a cleaning and some rays, and three fillings and an extraction and a dental implant and a crown on that implant, as opposed to pulling their teeth out and making a denture, that's what the patient gets. And that patient will be able to go to a specialist, again at no charge as part of the program.''
Dr. Nager says while the average treatment is $2,100, some cases run a lot more than that. He remembers one young patient he had early in the program.
Nager: ``This girl as a teenager got full mouth braces, which was about $5,000 worth of braces, which took a couple of years to do. She ended up having five dental implants put in, because she was congenitally missing some teeth - that's about $10,000, then a dentist put caps or crowns on those five implants, which is another $10,000. And this girl, one case over a four- or five-year period of time, she ended up getting $25,000 worth of dental work, which obviously she wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.''
McManus: ``I knew I needed dentures and I knew I couldn't afford them.''
Peggy McManus was a patient of Dr. Nager's several years ago. After filling out an application and qualifying for the program she received a full set of dentures.
McManus: ``At one point he had to redo one of the posts, because something wasn't quite right with it and it still hurt. So he...it's like getting three done instead of two and no cost. They don't treat me like I'm a freebie, they treat me like I'm a person and like anybody else and it's just been great.''
Charlie, who lives in Cranston, says his case was complicated by other medical problems.
Charlie: ``I didn't even know about it until a friend of mine, I had a lot of medical problems, dental problems, I've had heart failure, I got a lot of things, I got diabetes now, and my teeth were bad and when I had the heart failure, they pulled 18 at Rhode Island Hospital before they gave me my defibrillator. So I had a lot of bad ones left and kept calling dentists to try to get them pulled and got no coverage and because they were broken off they wanted $500-$600 a tooth, they wanted x-rays, they want this because they say....and then I'm on medications, every time I get a toothache I have to off that for like a week before they'll do anything. Whatever, a friend of mine knew Dr. Nager, he called Dr. Nager on my behalf and said: `Can you just come and look at him, you know, stuff like that. He didn't even know about the Donated Dental Services, but I came in and it's just been a miracle since then: 46
Nager: ``What this program is not, is emergency care. We don't take somebody who's got a toothache today and try to deal with it tomorrow because that's not the way the program works. The only difference between the relationship between the dentist and Donated Dental Services patient is literally, that the patient walks out without paying. Otherwise, everything else is exactly the same as it would be - as if they actually had unlimited funds.''
Dr. Nager says the program - which treated 120 last year - does have a waiting list of about six months. If you want to know more about the program, or print out an application, log onto www.ridental.com; or you can call toll-free 866-572-9390.
Next month we launch a new feature called The Rhode Island Spotlight, which will profile individuals and organizations - like the Donated Dental Services - making a difference in the community. If you have an idea for a profile please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Jim Hummel, Merry Christmas.