WHEN first lady Vicky Cayetano came to the rescue of The Queen's Medical Center's dental clinic last December with state support, she said it was "not just another one-year extension." Unfortunately, a temporary reprieve increasingly seems to be the case unless state, federal and private medical officials make a concerted effort to keep this vital clinic open on a permanent basis.
Queens dental clinic
needs more help
The issue: The Queen's Medical Center
has decided to close its dental clinic at
the end of this fiscal year as part
of a cost-cutting policy.
Queen's announced in November 2000 that it was closing its 40-year-old dental program, the only clinic in Hawaii that provides dental services to seriously ill and injured patients as well as the poor, because it was running at an annual loss of $350,000. Cayetano brought together state Health Director Bruce Anderson and Dan Jessop, Queen's executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jessop said he and Anderson "came to the conclusion this is a very important program and the state would find the dollars to support the program for one year" -- and it did, in the amount of $400,000.
Jessop now says that Queen's plans to close the clinic next June 30. He says it needs assurance of long-term funding for at least three years "to support the program and provide job security for the dental staff." Dentists who volunteer their services at the clinic say they could have obtained a three-year federal grant but the hospital administration would not commit to keeping the clinic open for that period.
"With the constraints Queen's has put on us, we have not been able to find funding," Dr. Angela Chin, one of the clinic's numerous volunteer dentists, told the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn.
The clinic treated 3,900 patients last year, including 293 needing acute hospital care. It is also Hawaii's only clinic with a residency program for training dentists in critical care.
The clinic charges fees to patients who can afford to pay, but that fails to cover the costs of treating those who can't. Without the clinic, the state would be forced to transport patients needing urgent dental care to the mainland at a cost of $25,000 per patient. Last year, there were 30 such cases, which would have cost more than $750,000 if the clinic had been closed down.
Closing the clinic, said Dr. Mark Greer, chief of the state Dental Health Division, would create "a significant void, and we'll have to strategize on how to get these services to the people."
Federal funding is appropriate for helping to keep the clinic open because of Hawaii's isolation; patients in other states without clinics can be transported cheaply to those that do. The dentists seem infuriated at the hospital's rejection of such funding in the absence of a long-term commitment, especially since the clinic's operating costs amount to only one-fourth of 1 percent of the hospital's budget.
The hospital lost nearly $8 million in the past fiscal year and is looking for a way to cut costs. It needs to be convinced that the dental clinic is one department that should continue to operate with help from outside.
ALOHA United Way, Hawaii's charities campaign, is off to a fast start this year, beating its goal in its preliminary Pacesetter Campaign by $100,000. As the state's economy improves, residents should find it more obliging to help fill the needs of their neighbors who rely upon the Aloha United Way's 65 health and human-service agencies.
Annual campaign begins
for charitable agencies
The issue: Aloha United Way is
kicking off its yearly general campaign
for charitable organizations with
various statewide projects.
AUW President Irv Lauber attributed last year's success in achieving $13.5 million to good leadership, good teamwork and a caring community. The total was $100,000 greater than the previous year and the first time in six years that the goal was surpassed. The organization has set this year's goal at an additional $100,000 -- to $13.6 million, about two-thirds of what is really needed.
"We continue to have great human service needs on Oahu, and we are going for what we think is a stretch goal given the economic conditions," Lauber said in announcing the goal two months ago. "But we're always positive, and we know it's for a good set of purposes."
During the past six weeks, the Pacesetter Campaign raised $1.88 million. The AUW general campaign began last Thursday and will run through Oct. 12. However, the campaign will be officially launched tomorrow with a "Day of Caring" involving more than a thousand volunteers and 50 projects. Those include beautifying Liliuokalani Botanical Garden, picking up debris from Nuuanu Stream, packing emergency food boxes for hungry families and various clean-up projects.
Lauber says the goal is based on several factors, including need, economic conditions and consumer confidence. The hope that Hawaii is continuing to emerge from the economic doldrums of the 1990s should bring success to this year's AUW effort.
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