by Cory Thompson
For nearly three decades, the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Medical Ministry has provided free and low-cost medical care for people who are uninsured or underinsured. During that time, the ministry expanded to include two pharmacies and a dental clinic. Nearly all these services are located at the ABCCM Doctors’ Medical Clinic at 155 Livingston Street in Asheville.
Like nonprofits everywhere, COVID-19 caused the Medical Ministry to scale back its breadth of care from their all-volunteer health care providers. “We had to shut down many of our services, and we were left with a core group of physicians seeing patients three mornings a week,” explains ABCCM Medical Ministry Director Dr. Daniel Frayne.
However, the dental clinic, which provided fillings and cleanings, stopped operating entirely due to the pandemic. “The nature of dental care made it an unnecessary risk for non-essential procedures,” Frayne explains. Three years later, the dental care program is still closed, which he calls a significant setback for the populations it served. “We refer away 10 people a day who call looking for dental care,” he tells Xpress.
The Minnie Jones Health Center, a clinic of the Western North Carolina Community Health Services, offers another option for free and reduced-cost dental work. WNCCHS is a federally-qualified health center, which provides income-based, sliding scale care. However, the demand for accessible dental care remains high in Western North Carolina.
Now, a dedicated group of health care providers and community members have joined together to resurrect ABCCM’s dental clinic. On August 25 at 6:30 p.m., The Rock Church in Candler will host a fundraiser, with an eye toward acquiring equipment needed to reopen the dental clinic.
ABCCM set a funding target of $80,000 toward startup costs and the purchase of two digital X-ray machines, which Frayne says are essential to providing care. The dental clinic has other equipment and tools in its Livingston Street facility that have “been waiting to be used for the past three years,” he says.
ABCCM Executive Director Rev. Scott Rogers hopes the dental clinic can reopen in the fall, although that is contingent upon health care providers volunteering their services. The hope is for one dentist and one dental hygienist to volunteer for five hours on Saturday afternoons at first.
Servants of smiles
Asheville’s dental community will also appear on the big screen as part of the fundraiser for ABCCM’s dental clinic.
In April, local documentary producer Caleb Owolabi filmed Dr. Perry Stamatiades, an Asheville dentist who has volunteered at ABCCM’s dental clinic since 1996, for a docuseries called “Servants of Smiles.”
Owolabi named the docuseries after an annual day of service initiated by Stamatiades. Ten years ago, family obligations interfered with Stamatiades’ ability to staff the ABCCM dental clinic during evening hours. To mitigate the loss, he started an annual event at his practice, Zoe Dental, to see underserved patients over the course of one day.
During this year’s April 23 Servants of Smiles event, Stamatiades provided free dental care to 104 patients, including fillings, cleanings, extractions, radiographs and examinations. Employees of his practice sacrificed a day off to help their boss give back, Stamatiades says.
Owolabi’s docuseries “Servants of Smiles” will highlight Stamatiades’ charitableness and parts of it will be shown at the upcoming fundraiser for ABCCM’s dental clinic, where Stamatiades will speak. “I thought spotlighting this act of service might encourage other practitioners to do their own pro bono work,” Owolabi says.
The docuseries will also be available on Amazon Prime in the fall.
‘Focus on being doctors’
ABCCM leaders hope the docuseries will attract more dentists and other health care professionals to volunteer for low-cost and income-adjusted services within the Medical Ministry. Rogers called it “an opportunity to show any medical providers moving to Asheville now that this community has a shared value of caring for the poor, the sick, the hungry.”
Frayne notes that volunteering can allow health care providers to follow their passion without some of the headaches that come from working in a conventional medical setting. “Interestingly, one of the major causes of physician burnout is the burden of dealing with electronic medical records,” Frayne says. “When our providers work here, it’s a sigh of relief for them to not have to interact with a computer. They can simply focus on being doctors.”
Being a free clinic also allows the ministry to accept donations of working medical equipment and medical supplies, as well as prescription medications and over-the-counter medications that are in the manufacturer’s container and not past their expiration date. The Medical Ministry is legally allowed to redistribute such items to people in need, Frayne says.
The Medical Ministry is actively seeking health care providers to volunteer. To join them, email email@example.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-259-5339. “We need volunteer dentists, hygienists and assistants, but also volunteer receptionists, medical record-keepers,” says Frayne. Anyone who wants “to be a part of bringing hope and healing to others.”