Photographed from L: Dennis Skrajewski, WAFCC Executive Director, Karla Tildahl, OAFC Board Member, Governor Tony Evers, Becke Connelly, OAFC Community Relations Coordinator, Secretary Andrea Palm, Jeff Scherer, AOFC Board President, Dr. Robert Fasano, OAFC Medical Director, Cortney Shiroda, OAFC Volunteer Coordinator, Judy Johnson, OAFC Board Member
GOVERNOR EVERS AND SECRETARY PALM VISIT OPEN ARMS FREE CLINIC
~Impressions by Becke Connelly, Community Relations Coordinator For Open Arms Free Clinic
As we all waited in anticipation of Governor Evers and Secretary Palm’s arrival, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with pride that they had selected OUR clinic to visit out of the two they were touring that day. (10 clinics had been suggested!). With just 3 weeks under my belt as Community Relations Coordinator for the clinic, it was amazing to be witnessing this monumental event. Even though I am new to my position, I have been aware of the clinic since its inception. To have watched it grow since it opened its doors in 2012 to where we are today, it makes being part of the team that much more rewarding.
From the moment that they arrived, I sensed the sincere interest in our clinic, staff, volunteers, interns and our mission “to better understand and serve with compassion” from the Governor and Secretary. They seemed to soak in their surroundings along with the words from Father Dan. We greeted them as they walked in with their entourage and began to tell them our story. Fr. Dan Sanders, the clinic’s founder, shared with them the events, dating back to 2011 that led to this moment.
As we moved into the dental clinic, they inquired about our current structure and services we provide to our patients. Our Dental Coordinator, Mary Beth Egert, passionately and professionally explained how our clinic operated and our desire to expand. She explained we are limited in our current space and how being able to purchase the dental clinic next to us would open up so many doors. Such doors include being able to care for more patients than we are currently able to treat; bringing on more volunteer and paid dentists and hygienists; beginning a partnership with Marquette University, allowing students to get in the hours they need in order to graduate (which gives us the dentists we need in return). Mary Beth summed it up by saying, “Our goal is to have health, not treat disease”. I sensed this really resonated with the Governor and Secretary. Mary Beth knocked it out of the park!
Continuing the tour, we pointed to our lab, where we are able to run blood tests for a fraction of the cost other labs are able to provide, to the health education room, where Father Dan explained this is where our partners consult with patients about nutrition education, financial counseling and assisting with health insurance. This room is also used on Thursdays for medication pick up.
Next was a visit to our Dispensary Room, it was so cool to watch the Governor and Secretary actually walk in and chat with our team including Pharmacy Director Bill Clark, a Founding Board Member and volunteer pharmacist. They were able to share with them that we have over 200 meds in stock, many of them free to us from pharmaceutical programs for patient assistance, and how we have dispensed over $2,000,000 worth of life-saving medications to our patients.
Because of the engagement, we were a bit behind schedule, which I took as a good thing, and I got the “we have 10 minutes left” from one of the Governor’s staff, so we quickly looked in on the vision, echo and counseling rooms before moving into the conference room, where some of OAFC board members were waiting. Home-baked goodies, (which both the Governor and Secretary took some with for the ride back to Madison), were brought in by Judy Johnson, a founding board members and champion fundraiser. We all sat and had a conversation about health care, the need for further funding for clinics such as ours and the immediate need for better dental care in our county. Listening to the discussion, I was humbled by the genuine compassion displayed by the members of the board. Knowing each and every one of them is a volunteer only solidified my beliefs in OAFC and our mission. At the conclusion of our visit, (which went well past the 10-minute mark), Judy presented both Governor Evers and Secretary Palm our clinic’s symbolic dove pins, and was beaming with pride as they graciously accepted them.
On our way out for a photo op, Governor Evers shook the hand of one of our patients, words truly cannot describe the look of awe on the patient’s face. My eyes quickly filled as it was such a genuine moment and I was there witness to it!
As we waved goodbye to the group, the feeling of pride was overwhelming, as was the fact that the need for affordable or free medical treatment is real. My prayer is The Governor, Secretary and others in Madison understand it is real as well.
To learn more about the Wisconsin State Oral Health Program Click Here