Service and a Smile for All
“Can I see safe hands?” The patient in the dental chair dutifully puts his hands down, away from his mouth, so the dental hygienist can work safely.
Down the hall, Jamil Abbasy, a clinical instructor at Tufts School of Dental Medicine, examines another patient who seems nervous, so Abbasy pauses every so often to reassure him.
These kinds of interactions are typical at the Tufts Dental Facilities (TDF) clinic in West Springfield, Mass., which exclusively serves patients with special health-care needs. The clinic is one of eight the dental school has operated in Massachusetts since 1976; seven of the clinics operate in partnership with the state departments of Developmental Services and Public Health.
“We’re not here for a huge income,” says Carli Bennett, a dental assistant at the clinic. “We’re here to provide a service.”
Abbasy, D06, got his introduction to this patient population during his special care rotation, required for all fourth-year dental students, and again during his general practice residency. “When I first started, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” Abbasy says. “But I love working with this population. I don’t think I’d work with anyone besides this population.”
The new TDF facility in West Springfield opened last October; a month later, the clinic staff won the dental school’s Team Excellence Award, an annual honor that celebrates groups of employees who go above and beyond their duties. In addition to Bennett, other honorees were dental hygienists Sandra Crowner, Mary Maziarz and Paula DiPallo; patient services liaison Kathleen MacKechnie; dental assistant Kathleen Pease and TDF program manager Adrian Gillard. Darren Drag, the clinic’s operations director, and Abbasy also received honorable mentions for their work.
The clinic provides some of the only care available for patients with special needs in western Massachusetts. Last year was a challenging one for the staff, who continued to treat their patients after the shuttering of their former location, the Monson Developmental Center in Palmer, Mass., and during the move to the West Springfield facility, more than 20 miles away.
“It truly takes a team of dedicated individuals in each of our sites to successfully provide the services we do,” says Drag. “I am so proud that one of our clinics has been recognized with this award, which embodies the importance and value of the team principle. The staff have been through a lot during the past year. Throughout that entire time, they remained unified as a team and stayed focused on the most important piece of all: providing care to the patients.”
Dean Huw Thomas honored the TDF staff on Jan. 28 during a lunchtime ceremony at the dental school that Mark Gonthier, executive associate dean; members of the Team Excellence Award committee; Mark Nehring, chair of the Department of Public Health and Community Service; and Michael Chin, the school’s web content specialist, who nominated the team, also attended.
Many general dental offices do not have the resources to care for patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities. These patients often require longer appointments and can have physical disabilities, such as blindness, deafness or other restrictions, that require other specialized care. The teams at TDF are prepared for it all.
“We had a new patient the other day who just ran around the building and then left,” says Bennett, the dental assistant. “And that’s fine. You have to be able to just roll with anything. Many of these patients wouldn’t receive any care if it weren’t for us. But everyone deserves care.”
Emma Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.