Lessons from the Victory of the Nonprofit Sarrell Dental Clinic

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