When he began volunteering at the Lucy Corr Dental Clinic in Chesterfield in 2003, one of the challenges facing Dr. Michael Hanley was simply getting to the patient.
“We had to step over an electric box to treat patients in the chair,” he says. “Now we have two chairs and a beautiful state-of-the-art clinic.”
Hanley, who in May was inducted into the Chesterfield County Senior Volunteer Hall of Fame for his longtime dedication to the clinic and its clientele, became involved thanks to his wife, Patty, who had joined the board of the nonprofit Lucy Corr retirement community. “A smart nurse thought, if you need a dentist to work in your dental clinic, get his wife to be on the board,” Hanley says.
Then, the clinic was only for residents of the Lucy Corr facility — which primarily served Medicaid recipients — providing preventive and restorative care including cleanings, fillings and dentures with a skeleton crew of volunteers. That all changed in 2011, when Trish Bonwell, who holds a bachelor’s degree in dental hygienics and a Ph.D. in gerontology, was hired as clinic coordinator.
“I met with [Hanley] and Patty and said I was hoping to run the clinic like a private practice,” Bonwell says. “I wanted to create a dental home for our residents. They were very receptive.”
Over the last 10 years, using funds raised by the Lucy Corr Foundation, the clinic added a treatments chair and installed a digital record-keeping system. Now, the clinic serves more than 400 patients, is open 20 to 32 hours a week, and relies on a team that includes four staff and three volunteer hygienists as well as two staff and four volunteer dental assistants. Seventeen local dentists also donate time, with six of them on a regular schedule. An after-hours line summons either Bonwell or an on-call dentist. Since 2011, the clinic has offered dental services totaling more than $2 million.
Several years ago, Bonwell and Hanley began conducting dental screenings outside Lucy Corr, visiting senior feeding groups in the community to reach out to the uninsured and underinsured; basic Medicare and Medicaid coverage doesn’t extend beyond extractions. Beginning in July, in Virginia, Medicaid will cover routine oral care, such as teeth cleanings and fillings.
Dental health is closely tied to overall health. “With chronic conditions commonly found in the senior population — cardiovascular disease and diabetes — periodontal disease is an inflammatory condition, which can create biodirectional relationships,” Bonwell says. “Studies have shown that if you can get oral health under control, you can control [a person’s] glycemic index.”
Hanley also acts as on-site supervisor for dental and dental hygiene students from the VCU School of Dentistry and is the only person at Lucy Corr who is trained on the Larell One Step Denture system, which allows for the fabrication of dentures on site. Because the clinic’s goal, Bonwell says, is to keep patients “healthy and functional,” dentures are a significant aspect of care.
“He’s the one who makes [dentures] work,” Bonwell says of Hanley. “Even if they are dentures [patients] already have, he’s excellent at repairing and realigning.”
Hanley says dentures are important, both for utility and appearance.
“You really can’t function [without teeth], and a nice smile builds up your self-esteem,” he says. “There’s a social aspect of maintaining your teeth, too. Old people feel embarrassed when they don’t have the nice teeth they had when they were younger.
“When [patients] put in new dentures, there’s often a tear when they look in the mirror; they just can’t believe it,” he adds. “Sometimes, I get a little choked up myself.”
Bonwell says the relationships Hanley fosters with patients are meaningful and supportive.
“He is very smart and so comedic,” she says. “He is quick to create rapport with just about anyone. He’s a great clinician in terms of his talents and a great person in terms of his personality. Patients will request him particularly; they really enjoy his jokes.”
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