Handicapped and crippled children can receive care
SIKESTON - The Elks Mobile Dental Unit, now in its 41st year of providing dental services to Missouri residents, will be back in Sikeston Aug. 25.
Scheduled to stay in town until Sept. 9, the unit will set up at the Sikeston Regional Center, 112 Plaza Drive, after leaving Cape Girardeau where they are now, according to Barbara Cushman, program manager.
"We contract with the state of Missouri to provide primary dental services to handicapped and crippled children as well as mentally retarded/developmentally disabled children and adults throughout the state," Cushman said. "That is our mission. This is all at no charge as long as you meet the eligibility requirements." She added that for those who have it, "we do accept Medicaid."
In addition to mentally retarded individuals including educable mentally retarded clients and developmentally disabled and crippled children ages 3-21, residents of Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi and Stoddard counties who are referred by the Bureau of Special Health Care Needs or a Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled are also eligible. This does not include clients with learning disabilities only, however.
Individuals in extreme financial distress who have found it impossible to receive dental care anywhere else may be eligible as time permits after the two priority groups are taken care of, but must be referred by the Elk's Lodge screening committee. In these cases, the committee will provide the patient with a referral.
The self-propelled, bus-like vehicle is equipped to provide a full range of dental services and is staffed by Dr. Erin Luker, staff dentist; and Cindy Smith, a dental assistant who has been with the program for 16 years after working in regular offices for 10 years.
"I enjoy working with the clientele we see," Smith said. "Sometimes it's a bit challenging."
While she doesn't particularly enjoy the traveling, she noted the shortage of dentists, especially dentists that will take Medicaid, and added: "We do feel a need out there, so that makes you feel good."
Open Monday through Thursday, they do everything from cleaning and x-rays to fillings and extractions working four 10-hour days.
Operated by the Dental Department of Truman Medical Center-East of Kansas City since 1962 in partnership with the state of Missouri and the Missouri Elks Benevolent Association, more than 100,000 residents have been served by the program since its inception.
"We're kind of a neat mix of public and private funding," said Cushman. She explained a perpetual fund for the program was set up and is supported by Elk Lodges around the nation. "Each Lodge has a fundraising goal for the trust," said Cushman. "Elks Lodges are just fabulous. We're thankful of the time and effort all the Elks Lodges have spent on us. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't be here."
The program's three vans usually run year round except for vacation and Christmas breaks. Two of the three units are temporarily out of commission: one was made inactive when Dr. Linn Clemons retired this month after 10 years on the job, and the other due to its dentist moving on as planned after working with the program for about a year.
Despite the shortage of dentists in Missouri, Cushman said they hope to have the positions filled by mid-September.
Cushman said they typically have had a mix of new dentists fresh out of dental school looking to build their experience and older dentists who want to get away from the hassles of an office before retiring.
For more information on the program or to determine eligibility, call 573-690-6003. "If they're unable to answer, leave a message with a daytime phone number," Cushman advised. "If you call early that will help. You'd be surprised how many people call the day before we pull out."