August 12, 2005

New St. Ann Dental Clinic serves
the poor in Terre Haute

By Mary Ann Wyand

TERRE HAUTE—Catholics in central and southern Indiana can celebrate the opening of the new St. Ann Dental Clinic in Terre Haute, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein said before a dedication ceremony there on Aug. 6, because they have supported the Church’s mission of serving the poor by contributing to the archdiocesan United Catholic Appeal.

Three years ago, St. Ann Parish received a $50,000 grant from the St. Francis Xavier Home Mission Fund—made possible by donations to the United Catholic Appeal—to renovate the second floor of the former St. Ann School as a free emergency dental clinic serving the poor.

“We gather here to dedicate and bless this facility, which will provide dental care for those in need,” Archbishop Buechlein said. “As the Lord Jesus commanded his disciples to heal the sick and bring them relief, so too do we offer, from our many blessings, assistance and compassionate care to others.

“By the grace of your Holy Spirit,” he said, “make this place a house of blessing and a center of love, where dentists practice the art of healing wisely, where dental assistants and hygienists serve with respect and care, and where the faithful come to visit Christ in the person of their brothers and sisters.”

Providence Sister Constance “Connie” Kramer, parish life coordinator of St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute, said last Saturday that the emergency dental clinic opened on Jan. 12 after a four-year fundraising effort which generated donations of money, time, materials and labor.

In addition to the grant from the archdiocese’s St. Francis Xavier fund, Sister Connie said, “we also were beneficiaries of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. They gave us $3,000 for medicines. We use antibiotics to treat infections.

“St. Elizabeth Parish in Cambridge City gave us $20,000 three years ago,” she said. “We also got $360,000 from the city [of Terre Haute] in a grant, a forgivable loan. There’s most likely $100,000 in grants from within this city so it’s about a half-million-dollar project.”

The St. Ann Clinic, also located in the former school, provides primary health care service and referrals to low-income people and is a project of the Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries Inc.

About 20 volunteers, including dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants, enable the clinic to provide free care to the needy, she said, and have treated about 70 patients since January.

“You can get an infection in your teeth that can go to the brain,” Sister Connie said. “A 26-year-old woman died from an abscessed tooth and left two little children because the infection went to her brain, through her whole system. It’s lethal. … You have got to take care of them before they die from infection. We had one man come through the clinic recently whose face was all puffed up, and they got the right antibiotics and saved him. Thank God for that.”

Each patient is taught about proper dental hygiene, she said, and receives a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss made possible by another grant.

“That’s all we can do because there is no other dental care in this city for the poor,” Sister Connie said. “There just isn’t. We have screened 200 people who need dental care. They’re out there in droves, but we haven’t been able to get them all in for treatment yet. Some of the patients have been back three or four times.”

Archdiocesan Catholics can help the poor by donating to the United Catholic Appeal, she said, as well as talking with their dentists about dental care needs in central and southern Indiana.

“They can help by going to their dentists and asking, ‘What are you doing to help the poor in terms of dental care?’ ” she said. “Some dentists say, ‘Send them to my office.’ That’s fine. Some dentists come here. That’s fine. I don’t care which way they want to do it. I just ask them to please help us get the job done for the poor who need dental care.”

There are four dental chairs and a variety of types of dental equipment.

“It’s an emergency dental facility so we’re taking care of people who have an infection or a need to have immediate care because they’re in pain,” Sister Connie said. “The first patients [in January] had waited two years for dental care and were taking antibiotics for infections on and off for two years.”

Father Joseph Kern, dean of the Terre Haute Deanery, assisted Archbishop Buechlein and Sister Connie with the dedication.

“It’s something that’s been needed,” Father Kern said. “We can help people who have no medical insurance. I want to express my appreciation to all the people who contributed and worked on the clinic, and to the dentists who are doing pro bono work there.

“Anybody who has had a bad toothache or an abscessed tooth really can’t do much,” Father Kern said. “This will be a big help to them in getting back to their normal lives and their work.” †


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