January 27, 2012; Source: Anniston Star | If you want to understand the meaning of standing up for nonprofit values, look no further than the Sarrell Dental Clinics of Alabama. The nonprofit operation is dedicated to providing dental services to Alabama’s poor—the bulk of whom are unable to find private dentists that take Medicaid (or the state’s health insurance program for children, ALLkids), much less provide a cost break. The private dental establishment, represented by the Alabama Dental Association (ADA), went to war against Sarrell, using the power of the trade association to work state political leaders and the University of Alabama’s dental school (the supplier of some of the young dentists who worked at Sarrell) to try to crush the nonprofit upstart.

The NPQ Newswire has covered this controversy several times (here, here, here, and here). We did so, in part, because of the complete absence of support from the nation’s nonprofit leadership establishment while the private dental establishment slammed Sarrell as a “Medicaid mill” and worse. But Sarrell and its director/founder Jeffrey Parker hung in there, fending off the ADA complaints and pushing for legislation to allow the nonprofit clinic to continue. Despite the weight of the dental establishment, a bill permitting Sarrell to continue reached the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who signed it in June. 

Last week, Gov. Bentley, a dermatologist in his private life, visited one of Sarrell’s thirteen sites—its Anniston headquarters—to see for himself. He saw Sarrell full of patients, he heard Parker say that the clinic tries to “treat each patient like they’re our brother or sister, son or daughter,” and he discovered that Sarrell also does blood pressure checks on patients, like a general practitioner’s office would, to discover possible heart problems. In his own dermatology practice, Bentley said, it was difficult to get Medicaid patients to keep their appointments, but he learned that Sarrell gets to know and understand each patient’s personal circumstances and, in doing so, achieves a very low rate of no-shows, thus keeping the clinics’ chairs filled just about all the time.

“If everybody would provide care like this,” the governor said, “we could lower the cost of medical care.”

“Organizations like this one are doing it right,” added Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh.

Please tell that to the nation’s nonprofit leadership groups that ignored this controversy. —Rick Cohen