Second Chances: The DOTS Program and Dr. Kanchan Ganda

Dr. Kanchan Ganda is no stranger to second chances.

Dr. Ganda (center) celebrates her birthday with Samuel Ruth, Mark Gonthier, Carrie Garinger and Katherine Vosker (L to R)

In 1991, Dr. Ganda, Professor in the Department of Diagnosis and Health Promotion, met a female patient and her two young children who were staying in an area shelter after fleeing the woman’s abusive husband. Still legally married to her husband, and without dental insurance of her own, the patient used her husband’s insurance to pay for the treatment at the clinic that day. Dr. Ganda cautioned her, saying that her husband would receive paperwork about where she was treated; he could use it to track her down, if he wanted. But the patient had no other way to pay.

The patient and her children never returned to the clinic, and the shelter was not allowed to give the clinic or Dr. Ganda any information about the patient’s whereabouts. Dr. Ganda never saw them again. It was a disquieting experience for Dr. Ganda, who said she felt like she should have been more persuasive with the patient in order to to keep her safe.

“I really agonized over the whole thing,” she said. “I thought I should have been more forceful with her. But instead of constantly thinking about the mistake, I realized the way I can be comfortable with myself is to empower the current and future student bodies as a teacher.”

The incident sparked the beginnings of the Dental Outreach to Survivors (DOTS) Program, a grant-funded program that allows survivors of domestic violence to receive treatment at the clinic at no or reduced cost.

At first, Dr. Ganda began incorporating information about domestic violence into the curriculum, to teach students methods for both identifying violence or abuse and how to communicate with their patients about it. She had representatives from the non-profit organization Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence and the Boston Department of Public Health come to third-year courses and present important information about the laws concerning domestic violence victims, and the resources at survivors’ disposal.

“I tell my students there is no wrong way of doing anything,” she said. “But there is the right way, and the not so right way.”

Delta Dental discovered the work Dr. Ganda was doing in the classroom and awarded TUSDM a grant specifically intended to fund dental care for domestic violence survivors. From 2005 to 2008, while TUSDM supported partial and complete dentures for these patients, the program was fully funded by the dental insurance company to provide all other care needed. Under the direction of Dr. Ganda, students were able to treat over 250 patients, who benefitted tremendously under the grant. These patients were de-identified in the patient management system to protect their identities.

“Some patients would not look at us when they came in because they were so embarrassed by their injuries,” Dr. Ganda said. “We could change their lives- now they’re smiling, they’re optimistic. Some of them have gone back to school, or made careers for themselves. We even have some patients come to the class and talk to our students about how their experience and how our work helped them.”

The program has seen its ups and downs. After the 2008 financial collapse, Delta Dental rescinded their funding for new patients (though they honored their commitment to patients already seeking care.) But Dr. Ganda was not deterred.

“I had made a commitment to myself for these patients, that no matter what we would keep the program going,” she said. “I knew we might not be able to treat patients with the same frequency, but we would not turn anyone away who needed help.”

Dr. Ganda was able to keep the program afloat from her own monthly contributions and from contributions from TUSDM alumni. Despite the loss in grant funding, her patient pool for the DOTS program gradually increased to over 400 patients. And again, she got a second chance, this time from publisher Wiley-Blackwell. The company had published her textbook “Dentist’s Guide to Medical Conditions, Medications, and Complications” in 2008 (the proceeds of which assisted her in making contributions to DOTS). The publisher contacted her to request a second edition.

“I said yes, but I wanted to renegotiate my contract,” she said, laughing. “When I explained the program to them, and asked if they would mention in advertisements that some of the book’s proceeds go to the TUSDM DOTS program, they were very open to it.”

The past year has been a difficult one for Dr. Ganda. She had a fall in October 2012 that went undiagnosed and caused a brain hemorrhage in March of this year. After it was discovered, she went on medical leave for six months, returning to TUSDM in September. She said it was a long six months to be away from her work, but that the entire TUSDM community helped in her recovery.

“Everyone has been extremely supportive,” Dr. Ganda said. “I could not have come out of this whole thing without the support, love, and caring I have received during my illness, and even after coming back. I’m very fortunate and very blessed to be given a second lease on life.”

Dr. Ganda recently celebrated her birthday on October 1. Mark Gonthier, Executive Associate Dean, and the D16 Class had a surprise party for her in Merritt Auditorium on September 30, with cake, laughter, and joy at her recovery and return to TUSDM. But the most wonderful surprise came when the students presented her birthday gift: a donation of $500 to the DOTS program.

“At a joyful time, they felt so strongly about their civic sense and they thought of the underserved patient who is really suffering,” Dr. Ganda said. “That is very gratifying. I feel like I’ve gotten the best gift ever from the entire class!”