A panoramic dental imaging machine and several dental chairs sit unused in the now shuttered Charles Harwood complex dental suite, where they have been locked up for years, their donor says.
The Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation, an organization that has given more than $2.5 million in scholarships and grants to help meet the territory’s public health needs, donated dental equipment to V.I. Health Department clinics at Charles Harwood, the deCastro Clinic, and Schneider Hospital nearly a decade ago, according to foundation program administrator and grant coordinator Tina Beale.
Providing equipment for the St. Croix dental clinic in 2007 was the last initiative Beale and her husband, David, funded for the Health Department, she said.
Beale said she learned in 2012 that the Health Department had closed the dental clinics in 2011, and placed the equipment in storage, claiming that they planned to again offer dental services in the near future.
Four years later, the equipment hasn’t moved, the dental clinics have not reopened, and three subsequent health commissioners have failed to communicate with the foundation or offered conflicting information, Beale said.
Beale said she met with the St. Thomas East End Medical Clinic and Frederiksted Health Care Inc. staff in December, both of whom expressed desires for more resources to serve patients with dental needs.
“We believe that this situation is a gross mistreatment of the people of the territories who depend on public health clinics for their dental care,” Beale said. “It is also an insult to the Benjamin Foundation, as the equipment was very costly and sorely needed when donated in 2005.”
The Planmeca Promax digital pan machine, which has the ability to take a full X-ray of the skull, cost nearly $60,000, according to Beale.
Meanwhile, Frederiksted Health Care Inc., which recently expanded its dental services to its Christiansted office and became the only Commission on Dental Accreditation-approved clinical training site in the territory, still needs the equipment, according to chief executive officer Massarae Sprauve-Webster.
“When the Department of Health closed the clinics, we were overloaded with having to provide care to the entire uninsured population of St. Croix,” Sprauve-Webster said. “When the Beales learned they closed the clinics, and saw we were struggling to meet the need, they asked the Department of Health to turn the equipment over to us. I really do believe they want to reopen, but now it’s 2016. It’s been five years, and in the meantime, there is a need.”
Frederiksted Health Care sees 7,000 patients annually, and it has a waiting list of about 1,000 additional patients they currently do not have the resources to serve, Sprauve-Webster said. The Frederiksted facility has six full and part-time dentists and six chairs to accommodate the 3,000 patients that seek dental care, she said.
The center likely could see an additional 2,000 to 2,500 dental patients if they can receive the four dental chairs at Charles Harwood, Sprauve-Webster said.
The center even is willing to borrow the panoramic x-ray machine and chairs in case the Health Department ever is in need of dental equipment, Sprauve-Webster said.
“It’s a travesty that it’s just sitting there not utilized,” Sprauve-Webster said. “At some point we have to accept they haven’t been able to get the clinic open. It won’t be open next month, so why not make use of it in the meantime?”
However, it has been a long and arduous process, with no change since 2012, and the longer it continues, the more corroded and outdated the equipment might become, Sprauve-Webster said.
Beale said efforts began in 2012 with former Health Commissioner Mercedes Dullum to move the St. Croix equipment to the Frederiksted Health Clinic, a transfer that would have to be approved by Property and Procurement.
However, Dullum’s successor, Darice Plaskett, later stated she would not be relinquishing the equipment during her administration, as the Health Department intended to reopen its own clinics, Beale said.
“We will be adopting a patient-centered medical home model to enhance access to primary care for the uninsured and underinsured residents,” Plaskett wrote in an email to Beale in October 2012. “I will be coordinating our first team meeting to be held within the next two weeks. We will be addressing issues such as the dental services.”
Members of the administration since Plaskett, including Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s temporary appointee, Phyllis Wallace, did not respond to the foundation’s requests for meetings or more information, Beale said.
While the foundation did not reach out to acting Health Commissioner Juan Figueroa-Serville based on the understanding his appointment was temporary, they “fully intend” to work with the next commissioner, newly nominated Michelle Davis, Beale said.
Newly appointed Deputy Health Commissioner Kim Jones said she did not have additional information about the situation, and referred matters to Health Department territorial medical director Marc Jerome.
Jerome’s office did not return requests for comment, and no one answered the phone extension for dental services at the Charles Harwood complex.
Plaskett, now chief nursing officer at Schneider Hospital, did not return requests for comment.
“We want to do the right thing,” Beale said. “We sat on this for a long time and getting feedback from two clinics during this most recent visit led us to say ‘we have to do something.’ They are hurting for resources and this equipment is just sitting there. It’s not just a pity; it’s a tragedy.”
— Contact Ashley Mayrianne Jones at 340-714-9130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.