Senators lobby CCRI to reinstate Mission of Mercy clinic

Senators lobby CCRI to reinstate Mission of Mercy clinic

LINCOLN – A group of area lawmakers are asking officials at the Community College of Rhode Island to allow the Mission of Mercy dental clinic to return to the school.

In an Aug. 3 letter to CCRI President Meghan Hughes, six senators requested that the college “reconsider its decision to cancel the Rhode Island Mission of Mercy free dental clinic” at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln.

“We are making this request on behalf of the current and growing population of underserved citizens of our state who find the services provided by this free clinic essential,” said the lawmakers.

The group of senators signing the letter includes Democrats Ryan Pearson, of District 19 in Cumberland; Donna Nesselbush, of District 15, Pawtucket and North Providence; Elizabeth “Betty” Crowley, of District 16, Pawtucket and Central Falls; Roger Picard, of District 20, Woonsocket and Cumberland; Jamie Doyle, of District 8 in Pawtucket; and Republican Thomas Paolino, of District 17, Lincoln, North Providence and North Smithfield.

“In the five years this program has existed, over 4,000 patients who are uninsured, underinsured, or otherwise unable to access necessary dental care received critical oral health care services that could not be accessed by other means,” wrote the senators.

Pearson told The Valley Breeze this week he hopes college officials will come back with a favorable response on restarting the Mission of Mercy, or that they’ll be open to the state possibly supporting the mission in some way. If college officials say no, said Pearson, it’s “always possible” lawmakers could do something to try to force the issue.

The six senators point to uncertainty in the health care market as evidence why the services from the Mission of Mercy are so vital for maintaining good oral health and providing preventative care for poorer residents.

“The consequences of not providing good oral health could lead to more complex and critical health issues that put more strain on our already overburdened health care system,” they said.

A representative for CCRI, Alix Ogden of the college president’s office, said Monday that staff hadn’t seen the letter from senators, but he would be happy to comment on it once they did read it. The Breeze immediately forwarded a copy of the letter to Ogden, but he hadn’t responded as of press time.

The Breeze reported in June that officials from the school had ended the Mission of Mercy after five years. Volunteer dentists questioned the decision, saying they were willing to keeping running the clinic, but were forced out of the existing dental health facility at the school.

A representative for the school said at the time that CCRI was willing to offer the school’s field house as an alternative to the dental health clinic, absorbing $10,000 in costs, but volunteers said the extra costs to them of setting up a new clinic would approach $70,000 or higher.