SMILE! WHITE TEETH ARE A REULT OF GOOD DENTAL CARE – The expansion of the Swinomish Dental Clinic was dedicated with blessings, drumming and speeches last Thursday. History makers include: Back row: left to right: Chairman Brian Cladoosby, Julia Armstrong, Andrea Johnston, Leah Thibert, Kristi Williams, Dr. Ray Dailey, clinic dentist, Haily Kovacevich. Middle row: Magdalena Engst, Jessica Ortez. Front row: Luisa Romo, Sara Price, Laura Kasayuli, Dr. Rachael Hogan, clinic dentist. – Photo by Ken Stern
There was a time, not all that long ago, when dentistry on Swinomish Reservation was conducted in a single-wide trailer by young practitioners using outdated instruments. Tribal officials today like to think of those days as ancient history. That view was reinforced with the much-anticipated grand opening and blessing of the gleaming new expanded Swinomish Dental Clinic Thursday morning. An overflow crowd wedged into the facility, located in the shadow of the iconic Swinomish totem pole on Reservation Road, to take part in the close to three-hour event, highlighted by tours of the eight new operatories, each of which offers patients sweeping views of the channel. “This is a very historic day for Swinomish,” Tribal Senate Chair Brian Cladoosby told the large gathering, whose ranks included health care professionals, non-profit funders Swinomish officials and members of the design and construction teams that shaped the enlarged clinic. Father Mel Strazicich of St. Paul’s (Swinomish) and St. Mary’s (Anacortes) Catholic Churches offered the formal blessing, praying that the clinic might be seen both near and far as a symbol for healing. The Swinomish Canoe Family singers and drummers likewise helped usher in what is seen as the beginning of the next era in dental care on Swinomish Reservation. Cladoosby praised Tribal leaders for investing Swinomish resources toward dental health services on the reservation for years to come. “This,” he stressed, “was a generational decision.” Cladoosby, longtime Swinomish dentist Dr. Raymond Dailey, and Tribal Programs Administrator John Stephens each used a poignant anecdote to explain the long-term Swinomish commitment to dental health. It dealt with late Tribal chair Robert Joe’s support of initial plans in the 1990s to partner with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Indian Health Services to develop a dental clinic at Swinomish. “He pulled his dentures from his mouth,” recalled Cladoosby, “and said he didn’t want his people to have to go through what he did.” Swinomish has since gained a national reputation for taking the lead on the dental front in the Native American community.
Swinomish is the first tribe in the Lower 48 to utilize dental health aid practitioners (DHAPs) for fundamental services. As part of the Swinomish clinic’s expansion its staff will soon include three DHAPs, who are akin to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, said office manager Jessica Ortez. The Swinomish dental program was prominently featured with a two-page front section spread in the New York Times in May 2016, an account that was included in a pictorial display created by Tribal archivist Theresa Trebon for Thursday’s grand opening. “It took about a year for that to happen,” Stephens said of the Times coverage. “And the great thing about it is everything in the article was true.” The national story helped spur momentum for an expansion that now provides new teaching and training space and increases to 13 chairs the number of operatories at the Tribal clinic. “The fruits of our labor,” said Cladoosby, “are starting to play out nationally. We’re making an impact on other tribes across the country.” The impact at Swinomish, meanwhile, is noticed daily. “I know my grandchildren love to come see their dental team,” Cladoosby said. “This will serve us for a generation or two until we have to expand again.”