The one of a kind dental clinic at the Veterans Home in Minneapolis Minnesota. Katie McNamara prepares to clean Dennis Anderson teeth in the new dental clinic at the Veteran's home in Minneapolis Minnesota. Photo by Stephen Geffre / The American Legion.

Putting smiles on the faces of veterans

Vietnam War U.S. Navy veteran Dennis P. Anderson has been a resident at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis since April. Prior to Aug. 23, Anderson received his dental care through a mobile clinic that was available for a few days every other month.

But on Sept. 26, Anderson was able to undergo a simple teeth cleaning while sitting in an actual stationary dentist’s chair, one of two in the brand new dental clinic at the home. It’s the only advanced fixed dental facility at a veterans home in the nation – and it’s a nice addition to the already state-of-the-art home and its nearly 300 residents.

“(It’s) outstanding, very comfortable,” Anderson said. “It’s Class A. I love the chairs, love the seats. It’s got the X-rays. I think it’s outstanding that they got this place fixed up.”

The clinic at the home, one of five in the state operated by the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA), provides normal standard features of a dental office, as well as specialized equipment to better serve those residents who have cognitive impairments and physical disabilities, and a staff that already has expertise serving patients suffering from dementia and challenging behaviors. The clinic also will serve those participants in the home’s Adult Day Center program.

Katie McNamara, MDVA’s lead dental hygienist, said the facility currently is open two days a week and offers full dental clinic services: preventative services, fillings, crown and extractions, with the possibility of implants down the road.

McNamara previously had brought a mobile clinic to Minneapolis and still does to MDVA’s veterans homes in in Silver Bay, Fergus Falls and Luverne. She said the whole clinic had “fit in the back of my (Honda) CRV.”

Now, residents at the Minneapolis veterans home have a permanent facility in which to get the MDVA-provided comprehensive annual cleaning, as well as other services they may need. Patients will be billed through their own insurance.

“With this population, with the dementia and between the cognitive and the physical disabilities, for these people to have access out in private practices, it’s hard,” McNamara said. “I used to work in private practice. I did it for 14 years, and as our senior patients got older and older, we lost them because we could not service them in our private practice office.

“This (clinic) is equipped. We get a lot done – a lot of things to help them keep their mouth healthy, which, overall, is going to keep their body healthy … and their body functioning. That’s what we want to see.”

Simone Hogan, MDVA’s senior director of Veterans Health Care, said while the previous mobile clinic was able to provide primarily preventative care, the new static facility allows for restorative care, “which is critical.”

McNamara agreed, calling the change from the mobile to permanent clinic “night and day. Now we’re able to do extractions and get that bacteria and those infections out of there. We’re able to do fillings. Some people are able to do crowns. We’re blazing a trail here.”

Doug Hughes, deputy commissioner of Veterans Health Care for MDVA, said he saw a need for dental care for veterans when he previously worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs Minneapolis medical center.

“Working in the community nursing home program, we knew that there was a lack of advanced dental care in the community,” he said. “When the mobile unit comes out, that’s fine. They can do some of those procedures. They can’t really do the more advanced procedures. We needed to fill that gap.

“In addition to that, we wanted to have (a clinic) that was inside of our facility because we have a large dementia population. To provide a safe, known space for those veterans, it’s just one more comfort level. And I think the (residents’) families also feel comfortable as well, in that they get to stay in their home. Because this is really those residents’ home. This is our clinic. And I think it’s just one more instance … where Minnesotans have taken the initiative and the energy to really come up with a solution for a well-known problem.”

The clinic also will serve some of the patients at the Minneapolis VAMC eligible for dental care, as well as some residents at the Hastings State Veterans Home, which is just 26 miles from Minneapolis. MDVA is considering similar projects for its veterans homes in Silver Bay, Fergus Falls and Luverne.

Providing the funding for the project were grants totaling $210,000 from three separate entities: $100,000 from the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, $60,000 from Minnesota Veterans 4 Veterans and $50,000 from the Disabled American Veterans Minnesota Foundation.

Veterans 4 Veterans (V4V) is a trust fund comprised of four veterans service organizations: The American Legion Department of Minnesota, the Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Department of Minnesota. In 11 years the trust has provided grants totaling $2 million.

The $60,000 funded the cost of the equipment for the clinic. Don Pankake, a member of American Legion Post 96 in Hutchinson, Minn., represents The American Legion on V4V’s board of directors. He said the trust focuses on providing grants for causes like the dental clinic.

“We were excited,” Pankake said. “A lot of the programs that we do is seed money. We do a lot of programs where they apply for grants where it’s something new. That’s really what we like to do. Down the road maybe we’ll see another of these and hopefully be able to help.”

Projects like the home’s dental clinic are what the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation looks to assist, said the foundation’s executive director, Joseph P. Lally. “We were just excited that it’s a different model of care than is the traditional model,” he said. “This brings the dentist to where people are. We’re encouraged that it provides better care (and) more comprehensive care than the previous clinic. We’re just excited to partner with people, too, and to be part of something that’s the first of its kind in the country.”

Lally said being able to assist the veterans at the home is rewarding to his foundation. “It’s exciting to work with a team of people on a common goal and get something accomplished,” he said. “I think it’s even more exciting to be a part of something that serves people in need. The veterans that are residents here and the people involved in the day program, that’s up to 500 people. That they can get the care they need on site in a convenient way, I just think it’s a cool thing.”

Mark Jaruszewski, a member of DAV Chapter 1 in Minneapolis and a director on the DAV of Minnesota Foundation’s board of directors, said his organization’s foundation mirrors much of what V4V does.

“We received a grant request for the startup of the dental clinic,” said Jaruszewski, also a member of Chester Bird American Legion Post 523 in Golden Valley, Minn. “We took a look at that. The big question that came up in our mind is ‘this has got to be perpetuated.’ One of the big things we discussed was a continuation of funding.”

For Hughes, the hope is others follow MDVA’s example. “There is truly a geriatric dentistry gap in the community,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be a role model for geriatric dentistry throughout the state of Minnesota and the country.”