Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Smiles growing at Green Bay dental clinic
Phil Moore appropriately picked Veterans Day to stumble on to the dental care available at the Green Bay Health Care Center.
“What brought me here was I actually fell two years ago on Veterans Day, literally on Nov. 11, I fell and kind of smashed up the front of my face,” said Moore, who lives in Menasha, but had been receiving dental care at the Madison VA. “I’m sitting in my car with my face bleeding and a broken off tooth … do I want to drive to Madison, or do I want to try and start going to Green Bay?
“The issue for me was (Green Bay) was closer and I needed some fairly immediate care,” said Moore, who still speaks with the baritone clarity of his Army training instructor days. “I’ve been here ever since.”
As reflected in the continued increase in patient numbers, Moore is not alone in recognizing the multidisciplinary care at Green Bay’s Milo C. Huempfner Dental Clinic, which opened in August 2013.
“When we were built, in terms of dental, the long-term target number was about 1,800 patients. We exceeded that about year two and a half,” said Dr. Ankur Patel, lead dentist at the clinic. “Here we are in year five and we’re continuing to grow, so much that all these rooms are in high demand.
“We’re really fortunate that we’re in a pretty unique area between all these other VA dental clinics,” Patel said. “We actually get quite a few referrals from Tomah, Madison, Milwaukee and Iron Mountain.
“A lot of the patients look at this as a one-stop shop and they want to continue their care here and do their hygiene checks here, and their cleanings and everything,” Patel said.
In addition to comprehensive general dentistry services, the Green Bay clinic also offers periodontics, prosthodontics, and oral surgery. It’s one of the few places where the care runs from general dentistry such as cleaning, all the way dental surgery, if necessary, so Veterans don’t have to be referred elsewhere.
Patel also focuses on the community partnership and helping others. Two dental residents at any one time train at the clinic. Green Bay also has affiliations with the local technical colleges for dental hygiene and assisting.
In addition to the multiple dental specialties, the Green Bay facility provides convenient access to overall health care.
“You’re not going to find unique situations where you have a hall with dental operatories, and they’re staffed with different specialists and different types of providers,” Patel said. “You’re not going to find that in the private sector, having all the specialties and broad scopes of treatment, all offered in one location.
“In a private sector clinic, you’re not going to be able to just go down the hallway because I noticed your diabetic control was a little out of whack, and I want to refer you right down the hallway to your primary care. Or, you need your hearing aid fixed? You realize that in the dental chair. Just go down the hall. Everything about this place is literally built for the Veteran.”
Amber Mott, one of the first dental assistants hired for the Green Bay clinic, after working nine years in the private sector, said the growth over the last five years is about a lot more than just getting bigger.
“Actually, seeing how things are now and how we’ve grown from the first months and first year, it’s exciting,” said Mott. “It’s a great service we can provide for our Veterans.”
It’s people like Mott and the rest of the staff who deserve the credit, Patel added.
“I can’t say enough about the incredible hard work put in by this staff and how much they truly care about serving the Veteran. It’s really not a job for them; it’s a calling,” he said. “That all leads to the positive care we provide, which keeps people coming back and helps us grow.
“Without a full team effort from everyone in this clinic, our success would just not be possible.”That sentiment was echoed by James Duszynski, who lives in Two Rivers. He began receiving dental care about two years ago at the Green Bay VA, where he also receives health and vision care.
“I did not know what to expect,” said Duszynski, an Army Veteran who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. “As a kid growing up, we all heard the horror stories about the VA system. None of that could ever be more wrong. This place is fantastic. They have everything they need to provide excellent health care. I can’t say enough about the dental.”
While traveling out of state, Duszynski was able to take advantage of VA’s integrated national system.
“On our way down to Alabama this year on vacation, we stopped for supper along the road, and right in the middle of my meal, a temporary crown came off,” Duszynski said. “I managed to save the crown. When we got to our final destination, I called the Pensacola (Florida) VA system. They had to work in turn with this facility to get me to have the crown put back on again. It went so fast and so simple, it was fantastic.”
Moore encouraged Veterans to explore the health care options available to them through VA.
“I don’t think anybody is aware of the full benefits available to us, maybe outside of the G.I. Bill for education,” said Moore, also a former infantry platoon leader in Vietnam. “Other than that, I don’t think anybody has a real idea of what is available as far as health care.”
Patel does not disguise his pride in the Green Bay Dental Clinic, or his passion for helping Veterans.
“I always tell patients, I don’t get paid a cent more or a cent less based on what we do in the dental chair. I’m doing what’s right for the patient,” Patel said. “I’m going to treat them like they’re one of my family, because I have no other incentive but to give them the best care.
“The Veterans deserve the best,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. With everything that these ladies and gentlemen go through, to be able to roll out a red carpet for quality care, is the most important thing.”