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Dr. Adrian Tomarere drove two and a half hours from Omak to volunteer his dental services on the clinic’s first day. He is pictured here with his third patient of the day, Carlos Perez-Prado/Cassy Benefield - SpokaneFāVS

Free dental clinic opened in Spokane by Seventh-day Adventist Church

By Cassy Benefield

Seventh-day Adventists take health and wellness seriously, and one of the ways they minister to their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ is through wellness centers.

It made sense, then, that on May 24, the Adventist-run Better Living Center (located 25 E. North Foothills Drive between the Division and Ruby) opened its doors to a new dental clinic to serve clients at no cost.

“Adding this clinic is just an extension of what we do as Seventh-day Adventists in seeking to build people up, making them healthier, happier people,” said Jay Wintermeyer, assistant to the president for communications at the Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “It really comes from Jesus’ example. Where he ministered to people’s needs. He fed them. He healed them. And what better example than to follow what he did.”

Volunteer-run, from the receptionists to the dentists, and including the hygienists and dental assistants, this clinic provides Spokane’s low-income and under-served population free dental care services, including exams, x-rays, cleanings, fillings, and extractions.

Before adding the free dental clinic, the Center mainly functioned as a food pantry connected to Second Harvest Food Bank, servicing more than 400 families, who live in the 99205, 99207, and 99208 zip codes, with 40,000 pounds of food each month.

Phyllis Higgins is the lead dental assistant at the clinic, and she is sterilizing dental tools in the fully-equipped Sterilization Room/Cassy Benefield – SpokaneFāVS

In order to qualify for the free dental services, clients need to live in these same zip codes, be 18 or older, and have an income that is at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.

The story of the clinic’s inception reveals a series of coincidences the local Adventist community sees as God’s divine hand.

About two years ago, the board of directors wanted to do more health outreach and community service through that location and sought advice from the medical community as to what was Spokane’s greatest healthcare need. With one accord, they said dental care.

Around the same time the board members were asking about the community’s health needs, the television station He’s Alive TV relocated from the Center to the UCC office at 3715 S Grove Rd., just south of Spokane, which then opened up more space for this kind of clinic.

Lastly, there was Dr. Tom Cho, a dentist who had just moved to Spokane from the west side of the state.

On one of his commutes to work, being an Adventist himself, he was curious about the Center. Gayle Haeger, the Center’s executive director, said he walked in one day after they finished with the food bank work and asked, what is this place?


Dr. Tom Cho

“They showed him around, and he immediately saw dental offices in his mind’s eye,” Haeger said. “And so he has been our mentor through all of this and has been very supportive and helpful and just really been involved.”

After the board prayed about Cho’s vision and the community’s need, they pursued an estimate and started fundraising. In about three months, they met their financial goal.

In total, the clinic took two years to build, costing about $185,000. They also received donated dental equipment, as well as received great prices on gently used equipment, furnishing a clinic that includes a reception area, two dental chairs, a sterilization room, and even a medical examination room to be used in the future.

According to Maureen Finneran, Spokane’s program manager for Arcora, Delta Dental of Washington’s foundation, in 2017, only 24 percent of adult Apple Health enrollees in Spokane County had at least one dental service, which is a little higher than the statewide average of 22.5 percent.

“Stated differently, 76 percent of adult Apple Health enrollees in Spokane County did not access dental care,” Finneran said. “The new clinic will help boost access to care for Spokane adults, many of whom do not have access to care due to barriers including paying for care and transportation.”

Hours for the clinic are on Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The plan is to see about 10-12 clients a week. To find out more, people can call the clinic at 509-992-1976.

Needless to say, Cho was like a proud father, overseeing the clinic’s opening day.

“We’re really thankful the clinic is open and that we’re able to help the people in Spokane for their dental needs,” Cho said. “We know that there is a huge need out there, and the fact that this is all volunteer run is very inspiring because there are good people out there that are willing to do that—to better Spokane—and I’m thankful I could be a part of it.”

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