By Mike Baker
Since its inception back in 2010, the Haliburton County Volunteer Dental Outreach (VDO) has completed more than $3.2 million worth of in-kind dental work on some of our community’s most in-need residents.
The brainchild of Bill and Lisa Kerr, VDO offers a wide range of services to those in need of dental treatments, whether it be a simple oral cleaning, or an extensive root canal procedure.
“Many years ago, my husband and a hygienist went to Honduras for an overseas dental outreach program, and they got to chatting about how important it would be to provide this sort of care to local people here in Haliburton,” Kerr said. “There are a lot of people that don’t get their teeth taken care of because they can’t afford to do it.”
While Bill Kerr has his own dental practice in Minden, he and his wife, who is a lawyer, decided to set up a volunteer clinic in Haliburton back in 2010. The facility operates, on average, three days per week, and makes use of professional dentists who are willing to volunteer their time to the cause. Today, VDO has five fully trained dentists and a denturist amongst its ranks. They also employ a full-time office manager, a part-time dental assistant, and a part-time dental hygienist.
Lisa Kerr says the VDO model is “the first of its kind” in Ontario, and has been very well received by the Highlands community. Over the past decade, the organization has seen 1,095 patients, and scheduled 8,818 appointments.
To be eligible for treatment, patients must first go through a financial screening. While individuals are sometimes embarrassed, Kerr says it’s an important step to ensure the clinic is able to treat those who need it most.
“Our mandate is to see low-income residents from Haliburton County… First of all, we will ask for their net income… If they’re below a certain number, we know that they can’t afford to go to a regular dentist and we will approve them for treatment,” Kerr said.
There are special considerations taken into account too on occasion, Kerr noted.
“There are also people in our community who are struggling sometimes because they’re having a bad year, and they can’t afford their bills. So then we will look at their numbers, and then also take into account their basic living expenses – so rent or mortgage, costs to keep their car on the road, food in their cupboard, having a cell phone,” Kerr said. “So, after looking at all of those numbers, if we determine these people cannot afford a dental bill on top of what they’re already spending, they will qualify.”
Individuals processed through the program can, and often do, receive multiple treatments. Kerr said the majority of the people the clinic sees have neglected their oral health for years, meaning they require several fillings, and possibly root canals.
VDO offers a multitude of dental services, including cleanings, fillings, root canals and dentures to individuals 18 years of age and older. Kerr said just about the only services the clinic doesn’t typically provide are bridges, implants and crowns.
Recently, VDO has also partnered with the provincial government to offer services to seniors through the new Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program – something Kerr says has been a “godsend” for the clinic.
“The province just started funding this program last summer – it covers dental procedures for seniors over the age of 65,” Kerr said. “Since that program launched, we have scheduled 144 appointments, from which we have carried out $65,000 worth of work.
“That program has been phenomenally successful – when it started, we said we could take up 20 of our clinic days and dedicate them to seniors, yet we’re in August and we’ve already done that. The demand has been incredible,” Kerr continued.
While the money brought in through OSDCP has been a welcome addition, it doesn’t come close to covering VDO’s monthly costs. Kerr says the organization carries an annual budget of around $200,000 – most of which is generated by community donations.
VDO held its 11th annual golf tournament fundraiser at the Blairhampton Golf Club on Thursday, Aug. 19 – an event that raised more than $50,000 to support the work that goes on at the local facility.
“The support we receive from our community is tremendous. Our target heading into the fundraiser was to reach $50,000, and we have surpassed that,” Kerr said. “The generosity of this community knows no bounds.”
VDO also regularly receives contributions from the likes of 100 Women Who Care Haliburton County, the Township of Dysart et al by way of subsidized rent, and a slew of anonymous community donors.
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t impact VDO much, Kerr says. The organization still managed to get people in for appointments, once they were allowed to do so, and chipped away at its lengthy wait list. The one drawback was the temporary cancellation of a partnership between VDO and the University of Toronto, which saw fourth-year dental students come to the community to gain experience by completing procedures on patients. Kerr expects that partnership to start up again in the new year.
As she looks to the future, and what the next 10 years may hold for VDO, Kerr said she wouldn’t be disappointed by simply maintaining the status quo.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job over the past 10 years doing the work we’ve done. If I had one goal, it would be to attract more dental volunteers, more dentists – that would be great,” Kerr said. “Then, on the equipment side, a lot of what we have is 10 years old – some of it is even older, because it was donated to us second-hand in the first place. So it would be nice to be able to replace some of our older pieces.”
For more information on VDO, or to enquire about services visit www.dental-outreach.com, or call 705-457-3111.
By Mike Baker