When you think about passion, commitment and community spirit, the next thing you think of is probably not dental care.
But in an extraordinary turn of events these elements have come together in an initiative aimed at combatting a major health care problem in the South Okanagan.
“Dental care is such a basic service that many of us take for granted,” says longtime Penticton health worker Greta Henning.
“But some people are living in constant pain and there’s nothing they can do about it … because they can’t afford dental services,” said Henning.
With thirty years experience in the dental industry and witnessing first hand the growing crisis facing low-income families requiring dental care, Henning decided to do something about it.
Drawing on local volunteers, supporters and the knowledge gained from her dental missions to South and Central America, Henning founded the Henning Emergency Clinic of Kindness (HECK).
“I felt so helpless for so long because there is very little financial support for adults who suffer with tooth pain. I had nothing to offer to improve their access, until now,” Henning explained.
To date, 18 community clinics have been provided in Penticton, Summerland and Oliver helping almost 200 people who could not otherwise afford dental services.
Now with a permanent dental office located on Winnipeg Street in Penticton, Henning said the clinic aims to provide basic dental services to low-income adults and seniors to help relieve pain, treat infection or improve function.
“We do not charge anything above what a person’s insurance will pay, and if a person comes to us without insurance, we don’t turn them away,” Henning said of the clinic which operates 2-3 days a week thanks to local dentists who volunteer their services and expertise.
Henning admits to being overwhelmed by the level of community support for the Emergency Clinic for Kindness.
“I am just so grateful for all the support we have received. Some things might sound minor, but it has all made such a difference, like when Art Knapp’s provided flowers for our first day of work,” Henning recalled.
An exhaustive list of organizations and individuals has helped establish and support the clinic including: Dr. Amaal Ayoub, the first dentist to volunteer services for the clinic; Osoyoos dentist Dr. David Jenkins who donated dental equipment; BC Housing who helped secure a permanent property for the clinic; the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan Similkameen which provided a grant of $15,000 towards the start-up of the clinic; Sinclair Dental who helped design the clinic, Tech-Ease for computer support and Greyback Construction who renovated the clinic space.
Plans are already in the works to extend the care provided by the Henning Emergency Clinic of Kindness.
“Any health care professionals who are interested in volunteering their services are welcome to contact us,” said Henning.
In May, audiology and chiropractic services will be provided at the clinic.
Referrals to the clinic are provided through The Salvation Army Food Bank, the Ooknakane Friendship Centre, local walk-in medical clinics, mental health services and family doctors.