The VNA Foundation Gives Hope to Victims of Human Trafficking

Imagine having such extreme dental issues that you are up all night in pain and can no longer smile in public. Then imagine that you have no insurance or money to pay for a visit to the dentist—where would you turn? The SCH Dental Clinic, established by the hospital’s Foundation in 2017 to help uninsured and low income patients who came to the Emergency Room looking for dental relief, will now cover the cost of dental care for survivors of interpersonal violence and human trafficking. Thanks to recent funding from The VNA Foundation, the Dental Clinic will be able to help more victims of human trafficking in our community. . This funding will complement grant support from the U.S. Department of Justice and Chicago Dental Society Foundation, as well as other donations from individual and corporate partners.

While dental care is often regarded as a low priority in the medical care of these individuals, to the survivor, it is essential for regaining their self-worth. The Dental Clinic’s Manager, Marilyn Richmond, echoes the importance of dental care in the lives on these patients,

“They come in with toothaches, facial swelling, infections and facial trauma. Most have not had their teeth cleaned in years and have many cavities. We want to get them back on the path to good oral health. After treatment, these patients are very appreciative, they are smiling and grateful.”

Dental care is critical for these survivors, yet seeing a doctor, let alone a dentist who is very close to the survivor’s face, can be triggering, over-whelming and fear-inducing. This is why it’s so important that dentists and their staff be trained on how to appropriately engage with survivors to make them feel comfortable and safe. The Clinic’s Dentist, Dr. John Laftsidis, and his office staff have all been trained on providing trauma-informed care to these patients so that they feel at ease with office visits and medical procedures. As Marilyn notes, “These patients come from difficult situations with a lot of trauma. They may be fearful of someone touching their face. With the specialized training that we’ve received, we begin to break down this wall with kindness and understanding.”

Dr. Laftsidis’ dental care is not only improving the overall health of these patients, but is also aiding their emotional and physiological well-being.  As Marilyn recounts, one patient came in with stained front teeth, many deep cavities and never smiled– she was in constant pain. After several office visits she now smiles. She is not only pain-free, but delighted with her new smile and her new life. As the Dental Clinic staff has witnessed, providing dental care to these survivors is life-changing for the patient.

Regaining a person’s oral health increases their self-worth, their ability to engage with others and provides renewed confidence in interviewing for employment.  As Marilyn notes, “We change people’s lives by allowing them to smile again. Once they get on a path to better oral health, their whole personality changes. I’ve seen it over and over again.” While dental care may seem like a small fraction of care in the grand scheme of treatment, it can serve as the gateway for many opportunities as survivors work towards a better life.

This life-changing program is made possible by donations to SCH Foundation. Every dollar makes a difference. For more information about donating to Swedish Covenant Health, contact the Foundation at (773) 293-5121 or foundation@swedishcovenant.org

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