While laid off from his job at the Home Shopping Network distribution center in Piney Flats, 36-year-old Brian Toney was at the end of his unemployment benefits and without insurance when a broken and infected wisdom tooth that had been bothering him off and on for months caused his eye to swell shut.
He went to a local emergency room where a physician prescribed antibiotics and recommended an extraction. Without the extra $200 he expected the procedure to cost him, Toney applied for treatment at Keystone Dental Care, the city’s nonprofit dental clinic that last year logged more than 3,000 patient visits for people who, like him, were in pain and without dental coverage.
His infection put him at the top of the clinic’s waiting list of more than 1,000 other qualified applicants and his bad tooth was extracted soon after he completed his round of antibiotics. His income-based payment was $25, the same price he’s paid for subsequent visits for a cleaning, X-rays and the filling he received on Monday.
“When my eye swelled shut I knew I had to do something,” he said. “I came here because of the pain. They saved me and my wallet.”
Toney considers himself lucky to be a patient at Keystone. His brother is suffering through a similar problem and will continue to suffer because the clinic is not accepting new patients at this time.
Lisa Eggers, Keystone Dental Care’s executive director, said it may be some time before the clinic takes on any new patients. The loss of two major grants, $70,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $72,000 in Tennessee Safety Net funding, recently wiped away nearly half its $300,000 annual budget.
“In the past, a good 80 percent of our funding has come from grants,” Eggers said. “We do fundraisers and we had a phenomenal golf tournament this year. But everyone is looking at budget cuts and we’re still waiting on several local budgets to come in.
“Our board is at a place where they are facing some tough decisions and we need help. We’re looking for greater support from the community, from individuals and from those licensed dentists and dental assistants in our community who by volunteering at Keystone have provided treatment with a market value of $584,509 to 1,600 patients since Dec. 1.”
The Rev. Ron Murray, pastor of Johnson’s City’s Central Baptist Church, is the chairman of Keystone Dental Care’s board and has served on the advisory board since the nonprofit clinic began work in 1999, said while the clinic is looking to increase its funding from all sources, including grants, foundations and individual support, his personal hope is that more people will view the clinic’s work as he does, “a ministry for people who are in need.”
“I don’t think there are any others who provide this service in our (eight) counties. It’s a unique service. A lot of patients wouldn’t get any care if they couldn’t come here. With 1,000 on the waiting list, you can certainly see the need,” Murray said.
“There are several churches that support us. But the big thing is increasing need versus decreasing funding. We want treatment to continue and we’re eager to find new sources of funding,” he said.
Because of the substantial grant funding the clinic has received, Eggers said too few people are aware of the need the Keystone Dental Care meets.
“It’s a specific service for adults,” she said. “Keystone is helping local people who are in pain who are referred to us by emergency rooms. People who don’t have any insurance, dental or medical, whose (untreated) dental needs have become medical needs.
“We are a United Way agency and we have that support. But these two large grants are what allowed us to hire staff and increase our patients with that staff. We had 3,000 patient visits in 2011 and we are exceeding that (pace) this year without taking any new patients, just maintaining that backlog.
“So many people don’t even know we’re here or ever even thought that financially, Keystone needs support.”
For those who would like to help, tax-deductible donations may be made to Keystone Dental Care, 603 Bert St., Johnson City, TN 37601. More information about the clinic is available online at www.keystonedentalcare.org or may be obtained by calling Eggers at 232-7919.