August 25, 2016
Ten years ago, more than 200 people stood in line in Uptown Martinsville, awaiting the opening of the Community Dental Clinic.
On Thursday, the clinic celebrated the 10th anniversary of that opening. In the past decade, it has provided more than $8 million in dental services to unemployed or uninsured children and adults at about 37,000 patient visits.
Last year alone, the clinic posted a 16 percent increase in services provided, according to Dr. Mark Crabtree, who co-founded the clinic on Fayette Street with Dr. Edward “Chopper” Snyder.
“The clinic represents the best of Martinsville-Henry County,” Crabtree stated in a press release. “This is the result of the compassion that exists in this community and a determination that the health care needs of every person will be met, no matter the economic conditions.”
Back in 2006, Melissa Hopkins of Spencer was the 79th person in that line awaiting the opening of the clinic. At the time she had no regular dentist, no insurance and no income, she said.
She has been a patient there ever since, and “I have good teeth as a result.” Without the clinic, she added, “I wouldn’t have my pretty smile.”
Hopkins has received checkups and root canals and had her wisdom teeth pulled at the clinic, where she pays about $20 a visit.
“It’s magnificent for a community as small as ours with the tough economic times we have here to have this clinic. It has answered prayers for thousands of us,” she added.
Crabtree said there was never any doubt about the need for the clinic.
“The doubt was whether the community could sustain the clinic. What has been accomplished here is a miracle,” he said.
He praised the support of The Harvest Foundation, which has provided a total of $1.7 million to the clinic over the years. The Virginia General Assembly also provided $25,000 for each of two years of the clinic’s operation, he said.
“While the (Harvest) foundation is the bedrock of our support, we would not be here today without donations from other organizations, including governments and businesses and individuals,” he said.
Crabtree also noted the assistance of former 5th District U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode of Rocky Mount, who got a federal earmark to help launch the clinic, and Mervyn and Virginia King, who own the building where the clinic is located. The Kings have frozen the clinic’s rent and even cut it when finances were tight, Crabtree said.
“We wouldn’t be here today” if not for the help of Goode and the Kings, Crabtree said.
Among others he recognized at Thursday’s event were Dels. Danny Marshall and Les Adams; Ann Huffman, secretary-treasurer of the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation; and foundation board members Dr. Paul Eason, Gene Teague, Lisa Fultz and the Rev. Ron Mateer.
Martinsville Mayor Danny Turner and Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles presented the clinic with a proclamation that thanked the clinic for its work and congratulated it on its anniversary. Henry County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Adams gave the clinic a similar resolution, and noted that the clinic personifies the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, in which neighbors come to each other’s help when needed.
Tory Shepherd, assistant administrator of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville-Henry County, echoed that sentiment, saying she was “amazed at the perseverance of this community” where people take care of their own.
Nationwide, dental visits are increasing at hospital emergency rooms. A press release on the clinic anniversary stated that one national organization has reported the number increased from just more than 1 million in 2000 to more than 2 million in 2010.
But Memorial has seen a 34 percent drop in those visits since 2007, which the hospital attributes to the clinic, Shepherd said.
“This is how a hospital and a community should work together,” she added.
Crabtree said the relationship with the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Dentistry has enabled the clinic to provide quality dental care. Fourth-year VCU students come to Martinsville, living in dorm-like space above the clinic, to treat patients.
“This partnership is mutually beneficial,” he said. “The students receive outstanding practical experience and learn the value of public health service, while our patients receive excellent care.”
He added that the clinic is considered the best extramural site for VCU dental students in the commonwealth.
The students work under the supervision of Dr. James Hartigan, the clinic’s one paid dentist. He was the clinic’s first dentist about 10 years ago and he recently returned to the position with a two-year commitment, Crabtree said.
Also, 75-80 percent of the area’s dentists volunteer at the clinic.
“This is a partnership that works and will continue to work as long as we have the support of the community,” Crabtree said in the press release.
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