You would think that a low income dental clinic serving a densely populated county would understand the diverse needs of those it purports to serve–especially those of us who are disabled. And, it is imperative that health care providers comprehend that to insure equal access, they comply with civil rights legislation
If a clinic offers services to one or more sectors of the disabled population but cannot or will not serve others– for instance if it accommodates tooth extractions with local anesthetic but fails to provide sedation dentistry to other sectors of the disabled population whose need for that procedure is legitimate, it is engaging in discrimination.
That discrimination constitutes violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is a federal law requiring that places of public accommodation, such as a low income dental clinic, modify their rules and procedures to enable all to have equal access to care.
Because it operates without the sedation dentistry option, the Dental Clinic run by the Larimer County Health District is in substantive violation of the ADA. And very unfortunately, the clinic has a major attitude problem.
My first experience with this provider came in 2009, when I underwent a molar extraction. The dentist had no patience with someone with dental phobia– i.e. fear of pain around that most intimate of areas– one’s mouth. He was denigrating and cold and if my companion hadn’t been with me, I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it.
He was so shaming and the experience so unpleasant I couldn’t go back for three years. I’ve spent the last year working up my nerve to face the need for additional extractions and the ones affecting me, my state of mind the most are the proverbial two front teeth.
I was assured by the administrators of the clinic that a woman dentist at the clinic would be more nurturing, patient and encouraging.
My needs are complex and either need to be addressed over time with someone who earns my trust and can get me to the point of the abatement of my fears of having scalpels in my gums digging out my front teeth while I am lying down– a hugely disempowering situation and a victimizing one– or done in a one-day surgery setting when I am sedated.
Two days ago I went in to the clinic. As you would expect, this is a dark, stripped down and depressing place. The offices are cubicles with donated and out of date equipment.
There was a long delay eating into my appointment hour when I was taken back to a cubicle crammed with equipment. I had to request that the chair be turned around, the arm lowered, so that I get into it. I was polite, but assertive about my needs for assistance. Then, out of the blue, the assistant said she thought I had “an attitude” and stormed out of the room.
I had told myself that if the clinic hadn’t gotten itself together and wasn’t a nurturing environment, I would leave. Two women came into the room, and I said, “Let me out of this chair.” They were somewhat soothing, and persuaded me to stay.
I gave it another try. Then, the dentist came in. I asked her if she was the doctor I had been told about. The staff had taken films of the teeth in question and she began to recite a litany of bad news.
The worst of it is as follows. I told her why I was afraid to have those particular teeth at the front of my face, below my nose, pulled; I revealed the nature of my trauma. She withdrew and became stern and cold and said, “We can’t help you. You’ll have to go elsewhere, with your problems.”
This, my friends, is shaming someone, giving them to understand that they are burdensome, an inconvenience, a problem– making them feel like something is wrong with them. It is a pathetic thing to do to anyone and this dentist should be hung by her thumbs.
And, unfortunately for the clinic, it is also discriminatory– refusal to treat and assist someone on the basis of that person’s disability.
When she said she couldn’t help me, I even asked her to give me a referral to a sedation dentist. She said that wasn’t a service provided by the clinic. She was stern, contemptuous, and judgmentalism was written across her face.
I said, “You know, I was told that you were a nurturing, warm and supportive dentist, which is what I need.”
She bristled and ordered me out of the clinic.
At that point, I let my hair down and gave the entire staff a piece of my mind. I swore like a fish wife and said I would never come back.
No one has to be subjected to shaming and sell herself out in any area of her life to get her needs met. There are bottom lines in human transactions and if the price of help is to permit oneself to be shamed and made to feel badly, forget it.
So here we have a dental clinic serving the Larimer County low/no income population, a population of people who have been traumatized, many of them quite likely sexually victimized, and this clinic doesn’t have a game plan for sedation dentistry or a referral system, or a fund to help those who need that accommodation?
At this point, unless there is some miracle, I am left with no options but to let my teeth rot out of my mouth over time, swilling down mouthwash every few hours as I have been, periodically taking a course of antibiotics, trying to slow the decay for as long as I can.
In my view this situation would make a raving bitch out of an angel. That is where I am today– utterly pissed off, and raving.
How dare service providers, accountable to the taxpayer and with a mandate to serve those who have no insurance, behave in this manner?
Stay away from the Health District Dental Clinic in Fort Collins. You’ve been forewarned. For the time being I’ve shut down commenting on my posts– if you’re on Facebook, feel free to comment there, as I share the link with my “friends.” Thanks.