Dental services coming to Union clinic
Dr. Joel Bender, a North Powder-area dentist with a background in public health, will work three days a week at the clinic. Bender said Monday he is eager to begin his new job.
“In private practice, you’re focused on just your own patients. Here, the focus will be on the community. I look forward to that,” he said.Bender, a graduate of the Oregon Health & Sciences University dental school, was an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service from 1982 to 1991.
Assignments included Indian reservations in the United States and a stint as the director of dental services in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
After he left the service, he and his wife Susan decided to move their family to Northeast Oregon.
“In 1965, I spent a summer in Union and really liked it,” he said. “After we got out (of the service) we decided to check the area out.”
They liked what they saw. They bought a home on Wolf Creek Lane near North Powder and Bender opened a solo practice in Baker City.
He closed the practice in 2005, mainly because he and Susan, who is a midwife, wanted to travel and serve people in underdeveloped countries.
“We’ve done some mission type things in Brazil, India and the Phillipines,” he said. “That’s the kind of work I like to do, but it takes a certain amount of money.”
Early this year, Bender and the health district board began talking about offering dental services at the Union Clinic, and also at satellite locations in Cove and North Powder.
Bender said he likes the idea of going to work for the district because it gives him a chance to resume community service.
“At this point I don’t want a private practice, but I am interested in providing public service,” he said.
Bender said he will work as a district employee and patients will be billed fees for services.
“I think we can provide basic quality dental care at an affordable price,” he said.
Local community activists worked to form the South County Health District district after Oregon Health & Science University decided it would no longer operate the Union Family Health Clinic.
The district officially came into being last May, following a vote of approval by people living in the Union, Cove and North Powder school districts.
Since assuming responsibility for the clinic in July, the district has survived mainly on patient revenues, some bank financing and donations from the community. The board is formulating a tax levy proposal, but is not yet ready to present it to the voters.
Limited finances necessitate cost-consciousness. As the dental clinic has taken shape, the district has kept a close watch on the bottom line.
Remodeling at the clinic began last summer, with Bender and community volunteers pitching in. Bender helped to hang drywall himself.
And, for the past several months, Bender and board members have been hunting high and low for good deals on equipment.
Government surplus turned out to be a good source. Bender said he made trips to Arizona, California and Oklahoma to pick up equipment which, though older, has never been used.
Equipment donations have helped quite a bit, too. La Grande dentist Wes Rampton chipped in a pan-ellipse x-ray machine, and ODS Companies is contributing cabinetry and equipment it had left over from an insurance claim.
By now, the new clinic is well-furnished with chairs, x-ray and lab equipment, just about everything Bender needs to run a full-service clinic.
“We’ll offer all the basic dental services, cleaning, exams, fillings, root canals, extractions, crowns and bridges,” he said.
Bender expects the dental clinic will be open within the next couple of weeks, though he could not give an exact date.
“There are a few little things holding us up, but I think we’re getting close,” he said.
The main obstacle at present is the hiring of a dental assistant, he said.
“We’re in the process of trying to find one, and that’s proved a little more difficult than I thought,” he said. “We’ve received a few applications, but we’re hoping to get some more.”
Bender said the staff will also include a hygienist. In addition, senior students from the ODS College of Dental Sciences in La Grande will do intern work at the clinic. Planned satellite clinics in Cove and North Powder will open sometime next year.
The dental clinic isn’t scheduling appointments yet, though it is keeping a list of names of people who are interested in becoming patients.
For more information, call Union Family Health Center, 562-6062.