It has been nearly one year since Dr. Darren Riopelle of Smile Grand Haven donated a fully equipped dental office he acquired through the acquisition of another local dental practice. The donation was made with the designation that Love INC operate a free clinic to serve those unable to afford dental services elsewhere.
“The donation of the building by Dr. Riopelle was truly amazing in terms of size and value, but the impact was something we were not prepared for,” Love INC Executive Director Katie Appold said. “We knew there was a need, but we vastly underestimated the number of patients we’d be serving and the intensity of the need.”
In the short time since opening the facility at 326 N. Ferry St. in Grand Haven, the clinic has expanded from utilizing two dental chairs to three and developed a volunteer pool of 10 local dentists, four hygienists and three volunteer teams from local dental schools to help operate the clinic.
Within the first few months of opening, the clinic received a grant through the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation to fund the hiring of Lisa Costello, a licensed staff hygienist.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to see Love INC’s vision become a reality in our community,” said Beth Larsen, director of grants and nonprofit services for the local community foundation. “Providing this free service in an environment where individuals feel comfortable and supported helps to ensure they will prioritize their dental health both now and in the future.”
Recently, the clinic received authorization from the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to offer continuing education credits to dental practitioners in exchange for their volunteer service to the clinic.
Up to 12 patients are served at the clinic each day. As with all programs of Love INC, the services received in the clinic are provided with the intent of offering “a hand up, not a handout.” Referrals for money management, insurance enrollment and other sustainability services are provided for patients seeking services.
In the first nine months of operation, the clinic has handled more than 370 patient visits and currently holds a waiting list of more than 60.
“It is encouraging to see the work that is happening in the clinic,” said Riopelle, who serves as the clinic’s dental director. “The dental community has truly rallied together and joined in to help. Our hope is that strong volunteer support continues and the community generously supports this needed service.”
Support for the free clinic has been the major hurdle in its first year.
“The cost of the dental clinic is approximately $15,000 in supplies annually,” Appold said. “We were blessed to enter our first year with a fully supplied clinic building, but we will depend on the community moving forward.”
The free clinic recently began accepting Medicaid insurance benefits from patients who are unable to access services in the community.
“Our goal is to be the safety net for those who are unable to access care through traditional routes, comments Appold. “When services are able to be obtained through an area dentist, we’ll always encourage clients to go that route.”
The funds collected through Medicaid will provide about $10,000 a year, which will help offset the salary of the staff hygienist once grant funding has been exhausted.
Tax-deductible donations to Love INC can be made by visiting www.loveinctricities.org/donate or mailing them to 326 N. Ferry St., Grand Haven, MI 49417.