Keith Phillips, DDS & Kim Phillips, RN, MSN, PhD
A few years ago while sitting in a hospital conference meeting, retired physician Dr. Ernesto De La Torre looked around and noticed that a number of his retired colleagues continued to attend the meetings, even though they were no longer treating patients. Dr. De La Torre began to dream of a way to put these very able physicians to work in a free clinic setting. He threw his idea out to the group, and 21 retired physicians signed on to help.
A six-month search for a facility led them to a building owned but being vacated by Novant Health, Inc. With his dream and 21 retired physicians behind him, Dr. De La Torre and his friend, Dr. Bill Satterwhite, assisted by Jim Robinson, executive director of the Forsyth/ Stokes/Davie County Medical Society, leased the modern, 13,000-square-foot facility in Winston-Salem, N.C., for a mere $1 per year. Two years passed, and in that time, over 100 physicians and numerous nurses, lab technicians, and other volunteers contributed their skills in various capacities to provide free care to the needy residents of the area. At this time, the emergency-room physicians at Forsyth Memorial Hospital contacted Dr. Satterwhite and expressed the need for a place to be found to refer indigent patients for dental emergencies and dental problems that were affecting their patients' overall health. With three rooms available in the facility, Dr. Satterwhite and Robinson contacted area dentists Drs. Robert Clinard and Gerald Taylor. Robinson was able to secure grants and donations for over $100,000 to provide state-of-the-art equipment for two operatories, supplies, and salary for a dental assistant to help run and organize the clinic.
With the help of Drs. Clinard and Taylor, the Forsyth County Dental Society was able to enlist the assistance of over 25 area dentists, 20 hygienists, and numerous dental assistants. According to Dr. Satterwhite, the biggest problem now is that the two evenings a week the clinic operates are not enough to even begin to meet the need for charitable dental care in the area. "If we could stay open full time, at least we might feel like we were making a dent in the problem," Dr. Satterwhite said.
As it stands now, the clinic schedules about six patients an evening for each dentist and the hygienist. Generally, three or four more patients are screened and given a dental exam. Dr. Satterwhite says that the biggest reward has been in watching indigent patients come into the clinic for emergency care, but also have their teeth cleaned, quality restorations placed, and become educated in the importance of good dental health.
The criteria for receiving treatment in the Community Care Clinic is to have a family income of less than 200 percent of the poverty level. Patients must also not be eligible for Medicaid or other insurance programs.
To date, over 300 individuals have volunteered their time and resources to allow this clinic to provide an amazing variety of medical and dental care in a wonderful, modern facility. In addition to dentistry and general medicine, the clinic also offers a dermatology clinic once a month, an eye clinic four times a month, a radiology clinic four times a month, and diabetic education classes four times a month.
To expand the dental services and to more fully utilize the facility and equipment, Dr. Satterwhite is now looking for grant money to cover the salary of a half-time dentist. If he succeeds, then the needs of more patients can be met even more efficiently and effectively.
Dr. Keith Phillips maintains a private practice in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is president and founder of The Giving Hand Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to the start-up and development of free medical and dental clinics. Dr. Phillips also serves as a teaching associate at the L.D. Pankey Institute and is on the faculty of the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Dr. Kim Phillips is a research associate in the Department of Public Health Sciences Section on Epidemiology at Wake Forest University Health Sciences in Winston-Salem, N.C. In addition to teaching, she is a project manager for cancer-control and cancer-prevention research projects, primarily in colorectal cancer. Dr. Phillips is vice president of the Giving Hand Foundation.