Monday, June 11, 2001

Dr. Russell Masunaga was assisted by Kim Koga as they
volunteered their services recently at Aloha Medical Mission
Dental Clinic at the Institute for Human Services.

Dental donors
spread smiles
across the isles

Dental Samaritans donate
their services to those who
cannot afford dental care

Care for the disabled

By Helen Altonn

The state's newest good Samaritans are Dental Samaritans who are setting out voluntarily to improve Hawaii's oral health.

The Hawaii Dental Association is drawing volunteers from among its members to provide free services to residents who cannot afford dental care. Volunteers will provide dental services at clinics and mobile care centers throughout the islands.

Dr. Glenn Okihiro, HDA president, said dentists recognize the needs of the homeless and underserved, particularly on the neighbor islands, where access to dental care is difficult.

Dentists have been volunteering to help their communities, he said. "With an organized effort and more volunteers, we hope to extend care to more people in need."

Dr. George Wessberg, HDA Dental Samaritans director, said, "Our primary goal is to meet the immediate need for urgent care, toothaches and infections that they can't get at mobile vans because they don't have adequate dental staff."

HDA volunteers will support the Mobile Care Health Project operated on the Big Island and Maui by the Office for Social Ministry of the Catholic Church in Hawaii and St. Francis Healthcare System.

They also will help operate a dental van on Kauai.

Dr. Bonnie Lau, an enthusiastic volunteer, said one wonderful part of the project is that HDA members get to practice dentistry without having to worry about administrative costs, paperwork and similar concerns.

Lau and associate Dr. Jon Tanabe have been flying to the Big Island for several years to help dentists there with two vans that go to nine island clinics.

The Maui Dental Clinic began operating about a year ago.

On Kauai, Dr. Stanwood Kanna has led dentists who volunteer at a mobile unit operated by Ho'ola Lahui Hawaii for native Hawaiians and others who cannot afford dental care.

The Dental Samaritans began their program at the Aloha Medical Mission Dental Clinic at the Institute for Human Services.

Wessberg said dentists have done volunteer work for years: A 1998 state Department of Health survey revealed they were donating an average of $29,000 annually in free or discounted care.

But the services have not been provided efficiently, Wessberg said, explaining that Dental Samaritans will act as a clearinghouse for the volunteers.

The dental association budgeted $10,000 and has raised a couple thousand dollars from members to pay for dentists to fly to the neighbor islands, he said.

The HDA also is soliciting donations from members, corporate sponsors and other organizations so dentists can be reimbursed for expenses.

Wessberg said the program will cost about $10,000 to $15,000 a year, mostly for travel.

"Surprisingly, we're getting volunteers," he said. Wessberg said the HDA is signing agreements with neighbor island clinics with the goal of having at least one dentist on each island working with Dental Samaritans.

"Our whole theory is local problems, local solutions," he said.

"All of this eventually is going to fall back in the lap of the Legislature, which is seriously underfunding needs of these patients. Twenty years ago, we didn't have this problem, because the Legislature adequately funded dentistry."

Now, the state's QUEST program pays only for emergency dental care, and the reimbursement rate for fee-for-service care has been 60 cents on a dollar since 1991, Wessberg said.

"It's kind of like government's way of privatizing health care without funding it."

Many dentists want to help. They have been treating patients in hospitals for 30 or 40 years and continue to treat them on an emergency basis, Wessberg said.

Still, many residents do not have access to dental care and do not know who to call, Wessberg said. The Dental Association wants to establish a dental clinic on each island.

Wessberg said many dentists are reluctant to take Medicaid/QUEST patients because of their conduct in the office or failure to show up for appointments.

In the dental clinics, he said, patients can show up and wait in line until their turn comes to be seen -- "the old-fashioned way." He added that it is easier for dentists to treat uninsured and needy patients without charge than going through the paperwork for QUEST.

Additionally, the Dental Samaritans have created their own umbrella of malpractice insurance so volunteers do not have to deal with forms, Wessberg said. Clients with complaints can go to the dental association, Wessberg said.

"It raises the level of the quality of work to the community rather than individuals hired who happen to have a license and work a day or two on per diem."

Tax-deductible donations may be made to HDA Dental Samaritans, 1345 S. Beretania St., Suite 301, Honolulu, HI 96814.

For more information, call the Hawaii Dental Association in Honolulu, 593-7956, or from the neighbor islands, 1-800-359-6725.

National group gives
dental care to disabled

By Helen Altonn

Elderly, mentally ill, disabled and homeless people in Hawaii will be eligible for free dental services under a program of the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped.

The statewide Donated Dental Services Program is separate from the Hawaii Dental Association's Dental Samaritans, but it has the HDA's support.

HDA members will be recruited to work voluntarily with the national program to help the mentally and physically disabled, said Dr. Glenn Okihiro, the association's president.

"To a small degree, it seems like a duplication (of voluntary services)," he said.

"But their clients don't have access to places we (Samaritans) will be, at the Institute for Human Services and mobile care vans."

This year's Legislature provided $41,660 for each of the next two fiscal years to carry out the Donated Dental Services Program, starting July 1.

The National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped, located in Colorado, is a charitable affiliate of the American Dental Association.

Waynette Cabral, program specialist at the Hawaii State Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, said Hawaii will be one of 32 states with donated dental services for developmentally disabled people in July.

By the end of this year, the national organization says, there will be $50 million in dental services contributed through the program nationwide.

"They recruit dentists who want to volunteer their services and use their offices to provide dental care to those who are elderly, with disabilities, with medical conditions," she said.

The program plans on 110 dentist volunteers and 15 volunteer laboratories serving about 95 people.

The national organization will provide technical assistance and hire a part-time coordinator to determine the eligibility of applicants, provide dentists with a "profile" of the patient and arrange for the dentist, specialists and laboratories, Cabral said.

The foundation says most dentists who participate volunteer to treat one or two people each year with serious dental problems. Dental laboratories that make dentures, crowns and bridges also donate services.

"It's not a panacea," Cabral said. "It's not going to take care of everybody, but it's a start."

Many lack dental care

Facts about Hawaii's dental health:

About 67 percent of residents have private dental insurance, compared with 44 percent across the nation.

Yet island children have some of the worst teeth in the nation.

About 350,000 children and adults are not receiving dental care because they lack dental insurance or can only get emergency care under Medicaid.

The percentage of people uninsured for basic dental care or with limited Medicaid or QUEST coverage, by counties, is: Honolulu, 21 percent; Hawaii, 33 percent; Kauai, 26 percent; and Maui, 28 percent.

Another 75,000 children have limited access to dental care under Medicaid or the state's QUEST program.

Source: Hawaii Primary Care Association

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