The Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic delivers high-quality dental care to people who cannot otherwise afford these critically needed services. Motivated by the beliefs and core values of our contributors and founding churches, we restore lives, one tooth at a time.
A Timeline of Progress
Foundation grants, donations from churches, community groups, businesses and individuals, and volunteer time given to the Clinic over the past several years have made the progress outlined below possible. We are grateful for their generosity, which has allowed us to change the lives of so many of our mountain neighbors.
September: A coalition of local churches ran a three-night medical and dental clinic in Cashiers, with funding from the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina. Using only volunteer labor, 320 appointments were completed. The need from the community was overwhelming. For every 30 patients seen by dentists, 100 were left waiting. It was obvious to all that there was a critical need for ongoing dental support for the needy in our mountain community.
November: The church coalition committee met and decided to pursue the dental aspect, since that represented the greatest need.
March: Coalition members began meeting, adopted the name "Blue Ridge Mountains Health Project" (BRMHP) and began to do the legal and organizational work needed to become a legal entity. At this time, BRMHP began to plan mobile clinics.
Summer – Fall: Fourteen local churches organized special fundraising programs, and our founding volunteer dentist, Dr. Tom Smith, collected over $120,000 worth of donated dental equipment. Dr. Smith urged us to consider a permanent clinic.
August: Two three-day clinics were held at Blue Ridge School using the paid services of the Jackson County Dental Bus. The severity of the problems brought to the clinics was astounding. Although important, these clinics were too expensive and could not provide the ongoing services needed. BRMHP continued to explore the idea of a permanent clinic to more effectively address the enormous need.
September: The incorporated Blue Ridge Mountains Health Project was awarded 501-C3 status.
November: A mobile clinic was held at the Cashiers Community Center using the NC Baptist Men’s Bus and volunteer dentists from surrounding areas. Once again, many people suffering terrible pain were seen in this four-day clinic.
December: BRMHP leased a former dental office in Cashiers at below-market cost with the option to buy in the next five years.
January – April: The Clinic's permanent location in Cashiers was outfitted and opened. The Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic began operating an average of two days per week, with services provided free of charge by Dr. Smith and his assistant, Jeni Knoebel. The Jackson County Health Department volunteered to take appointments and determine eligibility.
April: BRMHP and Jackson County Health Department sponsored a two-day walk-in dental clinic staffed by volunteer dentists, led by Dr. Steve Slott of North Carolina Missions of Mercy. Over 300 people were seen from all over Western NC. Follow-up care was provided by the Clinic.
May – July: Although up to 30 patients per day were being treated at the Clinic, the waiting list continued to grow. Recruitment efforts for additional dentists began. Cooperation continues with local hospitals, area health departments, and the new Community Care Clinic, a free medical clinic which will soon be established in Highlands.
August – October: BRMHP obtains financing to purchase the dental office, dramatically reducing operating overhead and expenses. Karen Minton — with a degree in medical/dental administration and years of experience in oral and dental surgery — was hired as Executive Director to coordinate daily operations on a part-time basis. All other services will continue to be volunteer.
December: Statistics show that in its first eight months, staff at the permanent Clinic treated a total of 234 new patients and 160 returnees, and performed over 2,125 procedures. These figures do not include the hundreds of additional patients treated at the mobile clinics.
January: Dr. Michele McDonald joined the Clinic as a volunteer dentist, with an emphasis on pediatric dental care. This added another half-day of services available per week to our clients.
June: BRMHP paid off the building mortgage, thereby lowering overhead costs and assuring permanence of the site. The Tooth Fairy Magic Campaign was formed to raise money for an endowment fund to protect the Clinic's future.
August: A documentary on the Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic was filmed for television by Channel 14.
October: Dr. Mel Livernois joined the volunteer staff, with an emphasis on restorative work. As a result, the total hours of available dental service increased to 24 hours per week. The endowment fund was established.
December: Over 3,700 procedures were performed on over 750 patients during the year. The value of these services exceeded $450,000. New chairs that allow better access to patients for both left- and right-handed dentists were purchased. The endowment fund balance reached $183,000.
March: The Annual Report was released for publication and, for the first time, mailed to all donors. Dental hygienist Nancy Buchanan joined the staff, allowing the Clinic to provide more complete services.
April: BRMHP was awarded the highest level of accreditation from the North Carolina Association of Free Clinics.
July: Karen Minton commenced full-time schedule as Executive Director, and former patient Melodie Hall began training as a half-time dental assistant. X-ray heads were added to operatories.
August: The Children's Dental Health Project was established in partnership with the Rotary Club of Cashiers Valley.
September: Repainting, and replacement of tile and carpets, was completed, along with implementation of the eTapestry donor-management system.
October: A new office computer system was installed.
December: Over the past year, 560 patients were treated, with 4,141 procedures worth over $550,000 completed in 1,100 patient visits. The balance of the endowment fund increased to $509,000. New ultrasonic and autoclave sterilization equipment, and a new dual-motor suction pump were installed. The Fraternal Order of the Tooth Fairies was established to promote awareness of BRMHP and assist with fundraising and dental hygiene initiatives.
January: Dr. Christopher Dyer joined the staff as a volunteer dentist with his assistant, Kathy Sounia, which further increased the Clinic's productivity.
August: The Clinic welcomed Dr. David Silverstein as a volunteer dentist at the Clinic.
December: In 2008, 4,472 procedures worth over $650,000 were completed in 1,058 patient visits, representing over a 4:1 ratio of service delivered per expense dollar. All patients were also screened for mouth cancer.
Drs. Craig Ashton, Tommy Day and David Jones join the Clinic staff as volunteer dentists. Dr. McDonald receives the Volunteer of the Year award from the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation awards the Ribbon of Hope grant to the Clinic.
The Clinic's new website was launched. In addition to providing site visitors with a comprehensive overview of the Clinic's mission and operations, online donations can now be accepted via Paypal.
During the year, the Clinic scheduled over 1,160 patient appointments. Over 200 of these patients were in such pain and agony that they required immediate assistance. With the addition weekly volunteering by Dr. Allen VanOverbeke during the summer, we expanded the professional staff to nine dentists and are now open three and a half days per week. We are able to increase patient load and expand the range of services to include more restorative procedures, including TMJ splints and full and partial dentures.
Pat Cunningham, Mike Grilli and Carl Hyde join the Order of the Tooth Fairies. New Facebook page launched.
Anticipating an eventual transition to digital technology, the clinic installs specialized dental software on the front office computers. Michael Devine joins the troop of Tooth Fairies.