At Catholic Charities, we understand that dental care is critical to our clients’ overall well-being, even during a pandemic. Each year we treat thousands of uninsured or low-income patients with the generosity of our volunteer providers. Though this crisis has affected how we provide care, our volunteer dentists and hygienists have made it possible to stay connected with patients.
In 2019, our dental volunteers contributed their time and millions of dollars’ worth of pro-bono services to uninsured clients. But from March until August this year, however, the chairs at our three dental clinics sat empty.
“Unfortunately, we had to cancel all of our patients’ appointments at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dr. Lucciola Lambruschini, director of dental services. “There were a lot of unknowns in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown.”
While the team was unable to treat patients in person, they continued to respond to patient calls. By June, they facilitated nearly 200 dental consults through telehealth sessions. In an act of commitment to serving those in need, some of our volunteer oral surgeons and endodontists opened their offices to treat patients needing immediate care. These volunteers performed extractions and critical gum surgeries on a low-cost or pro-bono basis, providing welcome relief for patients during this turbulent time. Their generosity allowed Catholic Charities’ dental staff to focus on developing protocols that would enable them to reopen our clinics and safely welcome back volunteers and patients.
In addition to establishing new safety practices, the dental staff outfitted the clinics with new technology, including Isolite, an innovative suction system that helps reduce aerosols, as well as air purifiers. These devices, made possible thanks to an anonymous donor, were instrumental to enabling our clinics to reopen.
Beyond providing emergency care, volunteers worked to educate our community about comprehensive oral health through a series of webinars. Hundreds of participants joined these Zoom discussions, which were presented in English and Spanish, to learn from volunteer experts about how topics like diabetes and nutrition can affect their dental well-being. Volunteers also took time to answer questions and address concerns so patients could practice good oral hygiene during quarantine.
When our clinics reopened in August, volunteer providers were ready and excited to return to serving patients in person. The facilities’ new safety procedures include health screenings upon arrival, using new equipment in exam rooms, scheduling fewer patients, and limiting patient and provider capacity. Our clinic at the Susan Denison Mona Center in Prince George’s County is accepting new patients, while the clinics at the Catholic Charities Center in Montgomery County and the Spanish Catholic Center are treating only existing patients.
“We were so thrilled that our volunteers were ready to come back to our clinics,” Dr. Lambruschini said. “They say that they’re prepared to see as many patients as possible. We are so fortunate for their eagerness to take care of our patients and ease their pain.”
The clinics are currently operating at up to 68 percent capacity. But the need is still great, as evidenced by the clinics’ waiting list people who need care.