The long and winding road: Trinity Dental relies on volunteers like Harris to get to this place
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
Back in June 2005, a group of dentists and nurses put out a public call for help as it sought to open a dental clinic for patients in Blount County who had nowhere else to go for care.
The only other dental clinic that was serving the community’s low income, uninsured and under-served population had closed a year earlier, but people like Dr. Tim McConnell, Julia Pearce and Stephanie Howell knew the needs weren’t going away.
The needs are still here, but Trinity Health Ministries Dental Clinic that opened in April 2006 is making a sizable dent. The clinic reached a milestone earlier this year. It provided care for its 9,000th patient visit. That included extractions of 12,000 teeth in those six years of operation. And counting.
The nonprofit, Christian, nondenominational outreach provides mainly tooth extractions and also cleanings. Fees are about 10 percent of what would be charged elsewhere.
One of the soldiers
Ruth Harris has been volunteering since April 2006. She was called to serve as translator for the Spanish-speaking population seen by Trinity. It’s a population that has grown over the years.
“This started with a group of nurses from Monte Vista Church,” Harris said. “They had a heart for helping others with great needs. I was asked to translate but we didn’t have any Spanish patients at first so I did whatever there was to do. Calls started to come in and word gets around. We probably have 50 Spanish-speaking patients now.”
It seem Harris was on a path to Trinity for years before she physically landed here. After retiring as an educator in Michigan years ago, she and husband Warren took an assignment as educational missionaries in Peru and Uruguay. The Spanish courses she had taken in high school came in handy.
But after their time on the foreign mission field was over, Harris said they looked around for a place to settle. The Harrises came to Maryville, had a look around and bought a house that very first day.
“God knew we needed her,” said Benalee Hutsell, the office manager at Trinity.
The name Trinity was chosen because it says something about the faith of this organization’s believers in Christ. The name represents the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one sense but also Christian faith, health care and community service.
Hearts to serve
All of the patients seen at Trinity are adults, who for whatever reason, haven’t been able to get the care they desperately need. Most have no insurance and a small income that barely pays the essential bills. Harris said being a volunteer and being able to bring relief to hurting individuals is a calling everyone at Trinity has in their hearts.
“It has given me an outlet to share God’s love,” this volunteer said. “It gives me a great deal of joy to see people who are in pain with no way to get help and then they come here and there is relief. They are so grateful.”
It is Harris’ job to speak with the Hispanic patients who call in and she does that whether she’s in the office or at home. She sets up their appointments, communicates with the dentists and other staff about their needs. She’s at the office 45 hours each month.
Learning a new language was something that appealed to Harris as a young person. She said she read books early on and has always been interested in the Spanish culture. She worked with migrants while teaching in Michigan.
Hutsell said it is people like Harris who make this mission of Christian service work efficiently every day. She said Trinity relies heavily on its 75 or so dedicated volunteers and the local dentists who volunteer their time as well. Dr. Ben Briley is clinical director. Dentists like Dr. Bill Proffitt, Dr. Tim McConnell, Dr. Matt Heath and Dr. Nadim Jubran donate their time so that Trinity can be open every Monday and Tuesday. If the doctors can give additional time, the doors are open on extra days. Typically, they are able to treat 22 patients each day they are open.
Time marches on
Trinity is supported through the United Way, area churches and individuals and also grants. It got started with a $25,000 grant from the Tennessee Baptist Association. The location for the clinic was provided by McConnell after he located his private practice elsewhere.
It has been a winding road as this ministry learned how to serve the community with donations of money and used equipment. The community has stepped up, Hutsell said, to keep this up and running.
“The patients are why we are here,” she said. “It is a ministry and we are here to serve. “We can’t ever lose sight of that.”
As for Harris, she echoes those sentiments as well. She could have looked ahead at retirement and chose to make those years about herself and her family. But like so many others, that isn’t who she is.
“She is a selfless person,” Hutsell said.
Harris can say the same about the others who make Trinity Dental Clinic a priority.
“My job is no more important than anyone else’s,” Harris said. “It takes all of us to be able to reach people.”