A free dental clinic that has been serving Kelowna’s homeless community for over a decade is shutting down.
Kelowna’s Gospel Mission Dental Clinic, located at 259B Leon Ave., has had a full-time dentist on staff for two years but can no longer take on that cost.
Last year alone the clinic had 1,850 visits, with a total value of $466,000 that came at no cost to patients.
Randy Benson, executive director of Kelowna’s Gospel Mission, said they were offered the dental residency program by UBC this year, but they weren’t able to get enough volunteers from the community to make it work.
Graduate dental students sign up for the residency to further their skills, but they lack one thing, a practice license. Due to new rules, they need a fully licensed dentist in the clinic at all times to oversee everything.
The clinic had the residency program for three or four years before but were dropped by the University. That’s when they had to bring in full time, something that is no longer financially possible.
“We can’t afford that as a society so we were very excited when we found out the UBC residency program was available to us again but the difference this time was they required a dentist in the clinic at all times so that’s why we reached out for volunteers,” said Benson. “We weren’t able to meet that requirement so we’re not able to have the residents so that means the full-time restorative clinic, as it is, is going to close.”
Still, Benson said they aren’t giving up and are still reaching out for volunteer dentists to run the clinic on a part-time basis.
“My hope is that we’ll be able to continue to see some patients,” said Benson. “It probably won’t be the same level that we’ve been able to with the full-time clinic but it depends on what kind of volunteer support we get.
“We’ve had a waiting list all the time—people trying to get in. So the need was great.”
For now, they have no details on what the scheduling or hours will be if they do find volunteers.
Since 2004, the clinic has provided necessary dental care to over 30,000 people with dental pain or infections who couldn’t afford treatment in a private clinic. Clients included low-income families and seniors, those on income assistance or disability, the working poor, and the homeless, who often have little access to hygiene tools.
UPDATE: Kelowna's Gospel Mission Dental Clinic will remain open over the summer. For more information on the latest story, click here.