Lessons from the Victory of the Nonprofit Sarrell Dental Clinic

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June 11, 2011; Source: Anniston Star | The NPQ Newswire has mentioned the efforts of the Alabama Dental Association, representing private dentists, to put the nonprofit Sarrell Dental Clinic out of business, apparently because it is a nonprofit (here, here, and here).

Governor Robert Bentley signed a law last week permitting Sarrell Dental Clinic, based in Anniston, but with 12 facilities around the state serving poor children, to operate so long as the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners oversees it. Sarrell was thrilled to comply and dropped its anti-trust lawsuit against the ADA, though the Federal Trade Commission may still investigate on its own the ADA’s attacks on Sarrell. The ADA didn’t comment to the Anniston Star about the legislation or the dropping of the antitrust case.

But we have some comments:

  1. Serving tiny Anniston, the Anniston Star has provided consistent reporting on this controversy while much of the rest of the state’s and the region’s press ignored it. Congratulations to the intrepid editors and reporters at the Star.
  2. Where was the nonprofit sector? This was as bold an attack on a nonprofit as we’ve seen in recent years, but the nation’s national nonprofit leadership organizations have been silent as far as we can tell. What’s the point of national nonprofit leadership organizations if they don’t provide leadership (except to support only large nonprofits and foundations)?
  3. With the advent of a confusing mélange of national policies stitched together under the rubric of health insurance reform, Sarrell’s struggle with private dentists may be only a harbinger of what nonprofit providers might face in the scrum for business, market shares, and functional roles.
  4. Where was the social responsibility in the ADA’s position and tactics on Sarrell, including the heinous plan to prevent University of Alabama dental students from getting experience at Sarrell? Someone ought to be calling out the dental association establishment nationally for a little needed self-criticism.
  5. Sarrell’s dental services to poor children have grown from 3,500 a year in 2005 to 80,000 in 2010. Has anyone figured out how important dental services are for kids and how health care reform needs to address dental as well as other medical issues?

Any other nonprofits out there, health or otherwise, finding themselves under attack from for-profits due to implicit or explicit fears of nonprofit competition? Tell us your story.—Rick Cohen

  • Frank Catalanotto

    These tactics from teh Alabmaa Dental Association are no surprise to those of us in the access struggles. There is a long history or oganized dentistry and or individual dentists using a variety of tactics, including personal intimidation and attacks, to prevent almost all efforts to develop innovative solutions to improve access. The good news is that many of these tactics have been publicized and have, in fact, garnered Federal Trade Commission intervention. This must continue! Congrtulations to Sarrell for have the fortitude to fight this battle.

  • Renee McGivern

    Never underestimate the tenacious reporting of even the smallest newspapers who live/love to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

  • Donald Griesmann

    Thank you for bringing us up to date in this sordid tale about the dentistry business. They not only fight services to children, they also have resisted patients with HIV/AIDS and TB over the past 4 decades. Ironically the American Dental Association offers grants to serve minority students, children’s and school-based dental needs. So fund the Sarrell Dental Clinic!

    ADA Scholarship Programs
    The ADA Foundation funds scholarships for dental students, minority dental students and allied dental students including dental hygiene, dental assisting and dental laboratory technology.
    Geographic Coverage: Nationwide
    Application Deadline: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis
    Sponsor: American Dental Association


    Samuel Harris Fund for Children’s Dental Health Dentistry Grant Program
    Grants for oral health promotion programs designed to improve and maintain children’s oral health through community education programs.
    Geographic Coverage: Nationwide
    Application Deadline: Jul 18, 2011
    Sponsor: American Dental Association


    And I add this group which should also support the nonprofit dental programs:

    Academy of General Dentistry Foundation Grants
    Grants to programs that improve the oral health of the public and promote the professional development of the general dentist.
    Geographic Coverage: Nationwide
    Application Deadline: Applications accepted on an ongoing basis
    Sponsor: Academy of General Dentistry


    These groups should be advocating for nonprofit dental programs to reach the unreached.

    And as you well call out, the plethora of gutless national nonprofits who claim to be the sector’s spokespersons and protectors of the faithful should be advocating programs such as this rather than fattening their budgets and looking for measuring tools. Those are my words, not NPQ’s.

    Don Griesmann

  • rick cohen

    Dear Don: Thanks for the bevy of information. But I wasn’t just looking for national leadership organizations to generate programs to provide dental services for the poor, but also to defend, to speak up for, to advocate for a fellow nonprofit, in this case, Sarrell Dental, that was under attack simply because it was a nonprofit. Shouldn’t nonprofit sector leadership mean standing up for nonprofits and standing up to the interests that want to slam nonprofits? Where was the nonprofit sector leadership in speaking out against the dental establishment’s attacks on Sarrell simply because of its nonprofit status? Thanks for your comment, Don.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Frank: Your comments and Don’s point out how important dental care is as part of overall health care. I have vivid and scary memories of the 12 year old boy in Prince Georges County, Maryland who died from an untreated dental infection (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-06-02/news/bs-ed-dental-care-20110602_1_dental-care-deamonte-driver-oral-health). Unlike the nonprofit Sarrell, many dental clinics are attractive acquisitions for hedge funds (http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Dental-Dollars-Go-to-Hedge-Funds-123497004.html). This nation has a long way to go to make health care–including dental care–a functional proposition for the children of this country.