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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Patients, staff push for state-run dental clinic’s reopening

    Norwich ― Clients and staff of the Norwich Dental Clinic at Uncas on Thames called Wednesday for the Department of Developmental Services to reopen the state-run facility, which suspended operations several months ago, apparently after the departure of a dentist working there.

    The clinic provides free dental care to people of all ages who have special needs, including developmental disabilities.

    According to the union representing clinic staff, DDS administrators directed staff to stop providing services March 18 and to start rescheduling appointments for six months later. During a June 23 meeting, the DDS indicated the clinic would reopen in three to six weeks, Pedro Zayas, a spokesman for District 1199 of the New England Health Care Employees Union, wrote in an email.

    Several people affected by the shutdown met with reporters outside the clinic Wednesday. They said they have received no assurances about when and if the clinic will reopen.

    Later, in response to an inquiry, a DDS spokesman said the clinic is not closed.

    “This location has suspended services for a period of time while recruitment for the necessary healthcare professionals is conducted,” Kevin Bronson, the spokesman, said. “Staff has ensured that all services booked through this location have been referred to other providers in the interim. We look forward to resuming operations in the near future and continue to provide dental care at three other locations statewide.”

    State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who joined the gathering outside the clinic, said she was concerned that the vacant dentist’s position could remain unfilled for some time. She said the state had adopted new hiring procedures that have complicated the process.

    “I’ve seen positions open for more than a year,” she said.

    Two of the clinic’s staff members — Pam Collelo, a dental hygienist, and Julie Michalski, a dental assistant — said they could have continued to provide patients with dental hygiene and other preventative services but were kept from doing so while the clinic is closed.

    Dr. Danielle Green, a retired dentist who practiced in Groton for decades, said she and others have volunteered their services to the clinic.

    According to District 1199, the clinic serves more than 900 patients in 119 towns from Norwich to Middletown. As of Tuesday, the clinic had canceled more than 1,000 appointments for 721 patients, the union said.

    “There is no substitute for the DDS Dental Clinic, as dentists in the community are either unwilling or unequipped to see our family members, even absent the (COVID-19) mask issue,” the mother of a clinic patient wrote in a May letter to the DDS. “... The abrupt and unexpected closure of the clinic for an indefinite amount of time places all our loved ones in the position of going without dental care, which can have far-reaching health implications.”

    “We who are parents and guardians of special-needs adults have nowhere else to turn …," she wrote.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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