June 6, 2011; Source: San Antonio Express-News | Permit us an editorial comment: Congratulations Sarrell Dental Centers! A bill awaiting Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's signature could resolve a dispute between leaders of Alabama's dental profession and Sarrell.

Sarrell has been under unrelenting attack from the Alabama Dental Association for its low-cost provision of basic dental services for tens of thousands of lower income Alabamans. NPQ Newswire covered this in the past, noting the pretty underhanded methods the ADA and its for-profit members used in their attempt to get rid of Sarrell’s nonprofit competition, including preventing University of Alabama dental students from working at Sarrell for their field placements or internships.

Employing 52 dentists in 11 clinics as well as a mobile unit, Sarrell’s services to the poor are enormously important, particularly since dental care is often overlooked in debates about needed medical care. To solve the impasse with the ADA, Sarrell pushed for state legislation currently awaiting the governor’s signature. The legislation specifically permits nonprofits to provide dental services and requires them to register with the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners. "The passage of this bill will not change one single thing as far as how we operate our not-for-profit, clinically, organizationally or strategically," said Sarrell’s CEO, Jeffrey Parker. "There is nothing required of Sarrell that is not required of any other dentist in the state."

The ADA moaned that this compromise would allow for patients to register complaints about Sarrell with the state which would have to investigate, though Sarrell noted that it has served 300,000 patients since 2004, 90 percent of whom were lower income people covered by Medicaid or Alabama’s ALLKids insurance program. Sarrell anticipates serving 100,000 patients this year.

This legislation, should the governor sign, marks the end of a three-year battle by the ADA to do no less than shut down Sarrell. It’s great that Sarrell not only stuck to its guns in defending nonprofits’ rights to deliver government services, but that Sarrell took the lead in formulating a solution. This is a great case study of a nonprofit standing up for nonprofit values and service to the poor against volleys of opposition from the for-profit sector.—Rick Cohen