Dental care coming to uninsured poor via Rural Parish Clinic

Dental clinic anticipated to begin services in the fall

The Rural Parish Clinic, a mobile medical clinic providing health care services to uninsured poor people in rural communities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is expanding its services to offer dental care.

The Rural Parish Clinic-Dental recently received a $50,000 grant from Delta Dental of Missouri, through its Oral Health Grant Program, which will be used toward the cost of equipment. The dental clinic is anticipated to be open by late fall 2020, said Pat Bira, executive director of the Rural Parish Clinic. The dental clinic will operate as a separate department of the Rural Parish Clinic, which was launched in May 2019 and currently provides medical care services in Washington and Franklin counties.

John Landgraf, a semi-retired dentist, as been named dental director, and Dr. Michael Suden, a permanent deacon and retired oral surgeon, will serve as director of volunteer recruiting. The clinic will provide dental care services including cleanings, X-rays and tooth repair. A new van is being built by LifeLine Mobile in Columbus, Ohio, and is anticipated to be completed by the end of August, contingent on production schedules due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Bira.

Deacon Suden, who serves at St. Bridget of Kildare Parish in Pacific, had approached Archbishop Robert J. Carlson about the need to provide dental care to the uninsured poor, especially in rural areas. “There are so many underserved people,” said Deacon Suden. “We will do anything we can to help people. Imagine someone going to a job interview and having no teeth. We want people to feel good about themselves and to have good oral health.”

According to the Missouri Foundation for Health, the discontinuation of Medicaid oral health benefits in 2005 left more than 850,000 adults in the state without dental coverage, with it only returning in mid-2016. Oral health care coverage is provided for children through Medicaid, but only approximately 34 percent of eligible patients use it, according to the foundation. A shortage of oral health care providers in low-income and rural areas has also proven to be a substantial hurdle for patients.

There are approximately 60,000 yearly emergency room visits from non-traumatic dental problems, costing around $17.5 million each year, according to the Missouri Health Department. Further hospitalizations from these issues are associated with an additional $13.5 million in hospital charges annually.

Landgraf, who studied under Deacon Suden years ago as a dental student at Washington University in St. Louis, said he finds motivation from the passage from the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30) on the parable of the talents, in which the master judges his servants on their stewardship.

“For me, the talent that I have is dentistry, and I would like to give that back in some meaningful way,” Landgraf said. “I wanted the work to somehow provide the care for people who would not otherwise be able to receive care. And if you can organize others to do this work, then it can be even more significant.”

For more information on volunteering with the dental clinic, contact Deacon Suden at [email protected].


>> Rural Parish Clinic-Medical to resume on-site services

Following a temporary suspension of services due to concerns related to COVID-19, the Rural Parish Mobile Medical Clinic plans to reopen its two locations in mid-July, with several changes to services and procedures to ensure patient safety and the protection of volunteer staff and parish facilities.

The Rural Parish Clinic already is supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal and is slated to receive $125,000 from the 2020 appeal. Other supporters of the clinic include the Incarnate Word Foundation, Drury Foundation and individual donors.

The clinic location at St. Joachim Church in Old Mines will reopen on Monday, July 13, and the location at the former St. Clare Catholic School in St. Clair will open on Thursday, July 16, with walk-in appointments being accepted later in July. The clinic will provide screening, guidance and referrals for those in need of testing and/or treatment for COVID-19, but will not offer testing nor medical care for COVID-19 patients on site.

The clinic also will implement several new procedures and protocols as locations reopen to serve patients in-person, consistent with CDC guidelines and direction from local and regional health officials. Throughout the clinic’s temporary closure since March 25, services for existing patients have continued via telemedicine support, by use of phone communication for medication refills and other needs. Those support services will continue for current patients until the clinics reopen in July. Patients may call 1 (888) 870-9610, or email [email protected] to make an appointment, or for more information.

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