“Can I see safe hands?”
The patient, hearing the cue, dutifully holds his hands out, so the dental assistant has clear access during his dental appointment.
Down the hall, Dr. Jamil Abbasy performs an examination of another patient; this one seems a little nervous, so Dr. Abbasy pauses every so often to reassure him.
All in all, it’s a normal, quiet day at the dental clinic. But every day is different at Tufts Dental Facilities (TDF) of West Springfield, one of the eight TDF clinics operated by the Division of Special Care in Dentistry in the Department of Public Health and Community Service. These clinics, spread out across the Commonwealth, exclusively serve patients with special healthcare needs in a partnership between TUSDM and the state’s Department of Developmental Services and Department of Public Health, in place since 1976.
“We’re not here for a huge income,” said Carli Bennett, a Dental Assistant at the West Springfield clinic. “We’re just here to provide a service.”
TDF in West Springfield has been the talk of the school lately. TUSDM celebrated the Grand Opening of its new facility on October 3. And on November 6, TUSDM announced that the clinic’s staff had won the Team Excellence Award, an annual award that recognizes teams that go above and beyond to facilitate significant outcomes at the school. Along with Dr. Abbasy and Bennett, the staff include Sandra Crowner, Dental Hygienist; Paula DiPallo, Dental Hygienist; Kathleen MacKechnie, Patient Services Liaison; Mary Maziarz, Dental Hygienist; and Kathleen Pease, Dental Assistant. Adrian Gillard, TDF’s Program Manager, and Dr. Darren Drag, the TDF Clinic Operations Director, were also recognized.
“The teamwork required to accomplish their work was paramount to the success of their operation and makes us proud that they are members of the TUSDM community,” an announcement by the award’s Selection Committee read. “We are grateful for their contributions and honored to name them the winners of the 2013 Team Excellence Award.”
The Selection Committee said that the clinic’s staff won for their work in providing some of the only available care in western Massachusetts. They continued to provide exceptional services through the closure of their former location at the Monson Developmental Center in Palmer, Mass. and subsequent move to the West Springfield facility more than 20 miles away in June – quite literally going out of their way to provide uninterrupted care for their patients.
“It truly takes a team of dedicated individuals in each of our sites to successfully provide the services we do,” Dr. Drag said. “I am so proud that one of our clinics has been recognized with this award that embodies the importance and value of the team principle. The staff at our new clinic in West Springfield have been through a lot during the past year as a result of the closure of Monson. Throughout that entire time, they remained unified as a team, and stayed focused on the most important piece of all – providing care to the patients.”
Dr. Abbasy is a D06 alum and was introduced to the Division of Special Care in Dentistry through the Special Care Rotation required for all fourth-year dental students, and again during his General Practice Residency. According to him, his work isn’t just a great mission – it’s what he loves to do.
“When I first started, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.” Dr. Abbasy said. “But I love working with this population – I don’t think I’d work with anyone besides this population.”
Many general dental offices do not have the resources to care for patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities, who might take longer to treat, require more soothing and possibly have physical disabilities such as blindness, deafness, or movement restrictions that require other specialized care. But the teams at TDF are prepared to handle anything. The commitment and compassion that the TDF community provides at all the clinics throughout Massachusetts allows these patients to receive comprehensive dental treatment with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
“We had a new patient the other day who just ran around the building and then left,” Bennett said. “And that’s fine! You have to be able to just roll with anything. Many of these patients wouldn’t receive any care if it wasn’t for us. But everyone deserves care.”