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Thursday, December 7, 2000

Putting high-powered
heads together rescues
Queen’s dental clinic

By Helen Altonn

Continuance of The Queen's Medical Center's dental clinic with state support is "not just another one-year extension," said first lady Vicky Cayetano, who helped rescue the clinic from closure.

The state Health Department will give the clinic about $400,000 to operate during the next year while the medical center searches for other funding.

"Our goal is to be able to get funding on a federal level to be able to keep this operation going permanently," Cayetano said.

She said she was very concerned after learning Queen's planned to close the clinic in June because of funding problems.

The clinic provides dental services to the poor and disabled, to prisoners, emergency room and radiation/oncology patients, children and disadvantaged youths and others with special needs.

The first lady said she asked her husband, Gov. Ben Cayetano, "What will happen to these people?"

"He said he would have to talk to (state health director) Dr. (Bruce) Anderson, but one way or another we have to take care of these people in the community."

As a business person, Cayetano said, the only ways she could see to remedy the situation were to start another clinic, which would be costly, or subsidize Queen's operation.

So she invited Anderson and Dan Jessop, Queen's executive vice president and chief operating officer, to meet Monday at Washington Place and explore options.

"All I did was call the parties together ... I'm just so thankful it all worked out," she said. "I think the people who really need these services especially will be very happy."

Anderson said he was able to tap about $1 million added to the budget this year by the Legislature for community health services. Use of some of the money to help the Queen's clinic is consistent with that purpose, he said.

The development brought joy to Dr. Samuel Ishimura, who directs the Queen's dental program and heads the clinic, which has a staff of eight.

They include two one-year general-practice residents right out of school, three dental assistants, an office manager and a hygienist.

The residents receive training in hospital dentistry and trauma (broken jaws, dental abscesses, fractured teeth, etc.). They also make dentures, do root canals and more.

"It's very intense here," Ishimura said.

Oral surgeons and dentists in private practice, including pediatric dentists, root canal specialists, endodontists and periodontists, volunteer time to the teaching program.

"They do this willingly," Ishimura said. "A lot of them are alumni of the program."

The two residents are the only two general dentists in Hawaii who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Ishimura pointed out.

They respond to the hospital's emergency department, each seeing about 150 patients a year on an average.

"If they come through our ER, they beep the resident (dentist) at all hours of the night," Ishimura said.

Ishimura, who has been with the clinic 10 years, said only three or four states are similar to Hawaii, with no backup dental services for special-needs patients.

"Others have a dental school or hospital-based speciality. We're it."

And as of now, Ishimura added, "We don't receive one cent in grant money."

Queen's will seek federal funding to carry on the program after the state money runs out.

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