Its Chamber of Commerce touts Grand Rapids as one of the 100 Best Small Towns in America and home of 1,000 lakes and a major drawing area for retail, business, and professional services. But another statistic caught the eye of the Minnesota Dental Association. With six dental offices signed up to volunteer for Give Kids a Smile 2009, Grand Rapids has the most participants of any outstate town.
To learn more, the MDA posed questions to clinics about Give Kids a Smile. It turns out that’s just one of the ways that the Grand Rapids dental offices pull together to serve their community. The dentists, who use the words “close-knit” often to describe themselves, have spearheaded new approaches to charity care for years.
For example, 20 years ago, a group of Grand Rapids dentists created IMCare, a carve-out from managed care Medical Assistance. IMCare provides a dental home for all public program patients in the area. And nearly all dentists in their area participate in that program.
Give Kids a Smile seems to be a natural fit for the dental community’s focus on those who need a little extra help and, in this case, children. Here is what participating Grand Rapids dentists say about the program and why they volunteer:
NWD: Outside of Saint Paul, Minneapolis, and Duluth, your community has the highest number of Give Kids a Smile participants. What makes Grand Rapids unique in this regard?
Dr. Lisa Johnson: Grand Rapids has a very close-knit group of dentists. We meet quarterly to discuss dentistry and issues we are facing. And we gather socially twice a year just to relax and have fun together. When I first started practicing here, I was amazed at the warm reception I received from the area dentists. It truly made me feel welcome! This kind of friendliness and camaraderie foster a very close bond.
Drs. Erick Hallie and Charles Sherman: The Grand Rapids area has strong community support, which is shown in many different venues of the city. Give Kids a Smile is just one area the dental community feels they can help. The dental community works very closely together not only as dentists, but also as friends.
MDA President Lee Jess: I agree we’re unique because we are such a close-knit group, and we like working and socializing together.
Dr. Mike Hagley: We all like each other, we get along well and, many years ago, we decided as a group that we would do our best to help people in need.
Dr. Mike Miskovich: We seem to have the same values. We enjoy working as a group to support the health and quality of life in our area. We are competitors, but with a small “c”.
Dr. Byron Rowell: We have a great group of dentists who all get along, and because of that we were able to form the IMC program. And I want to give back to the community.
NWD: Why do you participate in Give Kids a Smile?
Drs. Hallie and Sherman: Our lives get very busy and wrapped up with our own concerns. This is a way to give back to the community that enables us to do what we love to do.
Dr. Jess: We do it to help the needy, especially younger children.
Dr. Miskovich: It seems like the right thing to do. I am humbled and saddened when I see some of these kids.
Dr. Johnson: I feel it is my ethical responsibility as a health care provider to do what I can to help those in need. Although I am certain all dentists do this in their practices on a regular basis, GKAS is a way to focus attention on the access-to-care issue for our younger population and to dedicate a specified period of time to those patients. I find it to be an incredibly rewarding experience. Patients and their parents are, for the most part, extremely appreciative. It provides a huge dose of “warm fuzzies” when they express their genuine gratitude.
Dr. Rowell: We live in a wonderful community in Grand Rapids, and I feel the need to give back.
Dr. Hagley: It is a needed service. We care, and it makes us feel good to do something positive for our community.
NWD: Who in your community is best served by the program? Do the children come from within Grand Rapids, or other areas?
Dr. Rowell: Families that have several children and make just enough where they wouldn’t qualify for welfare. They mostly come from rural Grand Rapids.
Drs. Hallie and Sherman: We have parents who come from as far as International Falls, but the majority of our participants are from the Grand Rapids area.
Dr. Jess: I’d say the patients who fall in between the insurance programs and the MA programs. There are patients who come from a long distance away.
Dr. Miskovich: Those from within a 30-mile radius.
Dr. Hagley: Mostly people who fall through the cracks, not eligible for public care and not able to afford care.
Dr. Johnson: Our local Head Start program does an excellent job of promoting GKAS to its families, and the local schools send fliers home to parents. I have noticed that since GKAS has been going for a few years now, we do have repeat patients and the word seems to get out by mouth. Also, the community does a nice job of promoting the event via newspaper and radio. In my office, we commonly see patients varying in age from 4 to 17. Most of the patients I see come from the Grand Rapids area, but I have started to see more people traveling from distances as far as 30 to 40 miles away.
NWD: Compared to the charity care you no doubt complete for patients throughout the year, what is special about the Give Kids a Smile program for you and your staff?
Dr. Johnson: Give Kids a Smile provides an opportunity for us to set aside an entire day specifically to treat kids who are in need of dental care and haven’t been able to get it. All our energies for that day are focused on doing as much as we can for each of those kids, as they may not see a dentist again until GKAS next year.
Dr. Jess: It’s special because it is an advertised program for all. Uniquely rewarding too is seeing the special smile on patients’ and parents’ faces when you have helped someone.
Drs. Hallie and Sherman: The reason we enjoy this charity is that it does reach out to the children who may not have the opportunity to come to the dentist. We believe that our children are one of our greatest assets.
Dr. Hagley: This is a separate day that we set aside and volunteer our time. We feel good about that.
Dr. Miskovich: At first, we were overwhelmed by the condition of some children. We feel a sense of sadness and accomplishment at the same time.
Dr. Rowell: We often give more than a thousand dollars worth of dentistry in a short period of time.
NWD: How did you initially get involved, and how many years have you participated?
Drs. Hallie and Sherman: This will be our third year of participating in Give Kids a Smile. We were introduced to the project by the MDA and, once we participated, we looked forward to the next date.
Dr. Rowell: We knew of some of our existing patients (families) would benefit from this. We called them. I’ve been involved from the beginning.
Dr. Johnson: I have participated in GKAS since it began. My father, also a dentist, always felt it was important to “pay it forward,” so has always done a great deal of good will dentistry. He has always chosen to focus on the good he was doing for others as opposed to what he was getting out of it personally. That set a wonderful example for me.
Dr. Jess: I have been involved since its inception because I wished to help. I participated some years just financially due to being out of town.
Dr. Hagley: We’ve been doing Give Kids a Smile since the program started.
Dr. Miskovich: At first we were overwhelmed by the condition of some children. We felt a sense of sadness as well as accomplishment that we were able to help them.
NWD: What should other outstate communities consider when they decide whether or not to volunteer for this program?
Dr. Miskovich: All they have to do is see some of these children and they will know what to do - call the MDA to register as a volunteer.
Dr. Johnson: This is a wonderful opportunity to do something nice for someone who really needs it. It is also a great way for the community to become aware of what we as dentists do in regard to donated dentistry. It is good for dentistry!
Drs. Hallie and Sherman: It’s a charity you are able to participate in “hands on”, and to reap the personal rewards of helping families
Dr. Jess: Look at the benefits for the patients and the dental profession. Kids are our future, and it is our responsibility to educate and provide care, and to improve access to care.
Dr. Rowell: To look at our own set of patients, determine who could benefit, and ask what could we do for them?
Dr. Hagley: Remember, it’s for the kids. They don’t have a choice about whether care is available to them.
Give Kids a Smith 2009
Friday, February 6, and Saturday, February 7
To volunteer in this annual charitable outreach program, please contact the MDA for a sign-up sheet. There are many ways to help out. To learn more, visit www.mndental.org