Story and Photos By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Every weekend, those residing at Ozanam Inn on Camp Street can receive help for toothaches or physical problems from medical students and interns at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and Tulane Medical Center, as well as LSU School of Dentistry students.
Client needs vary and are addressed by students under the watchful eyes of a medical doctor and dentists. Physicals are given on the medical side, and dental health care, including extractions, are completed on the dental side.
“Interns get to have real-life experiences with clients,” said Claiborne Perrilliat, an Ozanam Inn board member.
Brooks Hummel, a fourth-year dental student from Monroe who has volunteered for four years at Ozanam, was the team leader one recent Saturday. He watched as students, along with volunteer dentists, Drs. Suezan McCormick and Sherrod “Shade” Quin, administered dental services to Heather Stumpf, a current Grace House resident.
Hummel said he chose a profession to help people “and build relationships with my patients and make a difference through these relationships.”
“For me, my faith in Christ told me to love the least among us, and this is one way I get to do it,” said Hummel, a Catholic. “There are a lot of people who just need someone to tell them that they are loved. Doctors Quin and McCormick always tell the patients we are there to take care of them and heal their needs. It goes a long way.”
As a patient, Stumpf, who said she once was a dental assistant, was truly grateful for the dental help.
“I am happy to have these services available to me,” Stumpf said before her tooth extraction.
Assistance before Katrina
Before Hurricane Katrina, some medical and dental services were provided to clients at Ozanam Inn – a nonprofit agency run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that offers free housing, food and other services to help the homeless get back on their feet.
The devastation of so many facilities after the storm, however, caused a brief halt to those free services.
Dr. Jack Andonie, a board member and volunteer at Ozanam Inn who also was a member of LSU’s Board of Supervisors after Katrina, began inquiring about reinstating the program. He concentrated on the medical clinic first.
“It took a while, but lo and behold, the medical clinic was open,” Andonie said.
The dental services were instituted regularly after a conversation Andonie had at lunch with an Ozanam Inn client who was complaining about dental problems.
“It sparked an idea in me,” Andonie said. “I talked to the dean at the LSU School of Dentistry – Dr. Henry Gremillion – about the possibility of the dental school being involved at Ozanam Inn.”
In the initial days of the dental school collaboration, Ozanam clients were provided transportation tokens to and from the inn to the dental school, Gremillion said, because space wasn’t allotted at the shelter for dental work.
“That was so successful that the dean took the next step, carved out a room at the inn and brought in dental chair and equipment (donated by a local implant company),” Andonie said.
The more complicated cases are still given transportation tokens for service at the dental school, Gremillion said.
“I am proud of the program that has evolved at Ozanam Inn,” Gremillion said. “Dr. Quin and Dr. McCormick have been the backbones of the program. … Our primary service is relieving pain and helping the clients provide for their dental health.”
Gremillion said he would love to expand services.
Tulane students have been working at Ozanam Inn for 25 years, according to Marc J. Kahn, MD, MBA, MACP, a Peterman-Prosser professor and senior associate dean of the Departments of Medicine and Pharmacology, Division of Hematology/Medical Oncology, Tulane University School of Medicine, AB Freeman School of Business and Office of Admissions and Student Affairs.
“This is one of our many student-led clinics,” Kahn said. “Our students have had a community service requirement for decades, and Ozanam is one place where this occurs. Community service is part of our community at Tulane, and we are thankful to have Ozanam Inn as an opportunity.”
Learning beyond specialty
What the clinic has become for students is an inter-professional learning experience, where they are exposed to both disciplines.
“On average, we have four dental students there who interact with the medical students,” Gremillion said. “It is expanding their horizons in interprofessional communications for care.”
The LSU students volunteer their time and are accepted into the Ozanam Inn program by application; it is not part of the curriculum.
Ann-Marie Simon, a second-year dental student and Albert Schweitzer Fellow who has volunteered weekly for the past year, was doing dental triage on a recent Saturday. As a fellow, she tailored a project to meet the needs of the Ozanam residents.
“Prevention, oral hygiene, handing out dental supplies and giving instructions go a long way,” Simon said.
Client J.R. Wilson, 42, originally from Mississippi, found himself at the inn and was glad to see dental assistance here. He cracked a crown that his mother paid $2,500 for, and was “hoping to get an implant.” He and others waiting for service said they were unable to get assistance in Mississippi.
“The deans have made a huge gift to Ozanam Inn by being involved, and I will be forever grateful to both of these deans helping Ozanam Inn,” Andonie said.
Likewise, Gremillion said he appreciated “the opportunity to collaborate and provide these needed services.”
Ozanam Inn executive director Clarence Adams said the services are invaluable.
“Having the clinic here has been a Godsend for the homeless population,” he said. “It has taken some of the weight off the emergency room. I know that was always one of my things – to prevent my clients from using the emergency room since they didn’t have primary-care physicians. If they were sick, they visited the emergency room.
“This is so convenient to our clients. They can get the treatment they need. If they need a follow up, they can be referred. One of the things we find with the homeless, if they run into too many barriers, they just give up. They are used to having doors closed on them. With the clinic being here where they are, they see the doctors, and if they need follow-up, the doctors will open the doors for them. They will not run into a roadblock. It’s a win-win situation; everyone is benefiting.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.