PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE: Good Samaritan Health Center planning dental clinic

Greg Lang

Greg Lang

By Greg Lang

The Good Samaritan Health Center of Gwinnett is a non-profit faith-based organization serving the uninsured of North Atlanta. July was a significant month for the charity medical clinic – it celebrated its eighth year of service, received the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Month Award, and announced its plan to relocate in order to open Gwinnett’s only full-time charity dental clinic.

“We are committed to caring for the indigent and working poor who do not have health insurance,” Greg Lang, Executive Director, says. “We have provided the community with more than 35,000 medical appointments since our inception. Based on our activity during the first half of 2013, we expect to deliver 9000 patient visits this year. At that rate, we will provide the community with services at an estimated value of $2.5 Million but at a cost of only $770,000.”

But those 9000 visits do not include dental care. At present, the clinic’s services are limited to primary medical care. “All too often we receive requests for dental care that we are unable to provide and must refer our patients to distant charity dental clinics, knowing they will be among many on a long waiting list,” Lang explains. “Our health clinic was founded to relieve the pain and suffering of those without access to affordable healthcare; it grieves us to recognize the need for affordable dentistry for the uninsured and be unable to meet that need.”

Oral diseases ranging from dental cavities to oral cancers cause pain and disability for millions of Americans. The impact of these diseases does not stop at the mouth and teeth. A growing body of evidence has linked oral health, particularly periodontal (gum) disease, to several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. In pregnant women, poor oral health has also been associated with premature births and low birth weight. These conditions may be prevented in part with regular visits to the dentist.

Just last month, the Georgia Dental Association hosted a two-day free dental clinic known as Georgia Mission of Mercy (GMOM) in Norcross. The GMOM volunteer dentists provided routine and complicated dental care to more than 1600 individuals during the event, and as many more were turned away due to lack of time and resources to serve everyone. More than half of those who did receive care reported it was the first time in more than two years since last visiting a dentist. “Now that the problem has been so clearly identified, we must do something about it,” Lang says. “If we fail to address the need, our awareness will serve only to condemn us for our lack of action. Believing everything will fall into place that should, we will open a new location in January 2015.”

The Good Samaritan’s current location cannot accommodate the additional staff and volunteers needed to serve new programs and the growing number of patients seen each day, and the parking lot cannot accommodate the combined number of patients and volunteers who arrive to the clinic. “Relocation is necessary if we are to meet the needs appearing in our clinic,” Lang says. “We pray the churches, businesses and families of Gwinnett will help us to acquire the space we need to do the important work that needs to be done.”

Donations and volunteers are always needed to operate the Good Samaritan Health Center. Contact Greg Lang at 678-280-6630, ext. 107 for additional information.

People Helping People is a publication of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services. For more information contact Ellen Gerstein - ellen@gwinnettcoalition.org or at 770-995-3339.