MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Diagnosed with HIV more than a quarter of a century ago, a man reclines comfortably at MAO Dental Clinic while getting his teeth cleaned.
Hands folded and head tilted back, the 49-year-old patient has never felt more at ease than he does at the McGehee Road clinic. Opened for those with HIV and AIDS, it is an expansion of services offered through Medical Advocacy and Outreach (formerly Medical AIDS Outreach).
“This is a wonderful Godsend,” said the man, who the Montgomery Advertiser agreed to not identify. “This is definitely an accepting place. It’s a place I feel comfortable. I’ve been an MAO patient for over 25 years, and people might ask why I don’t just go to a regular physician and have things done discreetly.
“There’s no better place to go than MAO. You have doctors that just specialize in this.”
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Northwest is in for a cold, stormy winter, NOAA predicts
- Sports on TV & radio: Local listings for Seattle games and events
- Cheney’s consultants are given an ultimatum: Drop her, or be dropped
- Pranksters have already defaced Trump's new social network
- California travel blogger among 2 killed in Mexico's Tulum
MAO operates the Copeland Care Clinic, the largest HIV-specific health care facility by geographic area served, within the state of Alabama. MAO also provides an array of comprehensive services and care for persons living with HIV/AIDS, including medication assistance, housing services, an on-site food pantry and mental health counseling/case management.
The dental clinic opened on June 26, and in the first five days, served 20 patients. It only grew from there, having served 241 patients through the end of August.
“The organization saw a need to expand services,” said Dominique Shamburger, a dentist who, along with her husband Carl Shamburger, splits their time between the MAO Dental Clinic and their private practice, Montgomery Dental Arts.
“Many of the patients we’re seeing here have not visited a dentist for various reasons for upwards of 20 years,” Dominique Shamburger said. “I had patients here that are well into adult age and this is their first visit, ever.”
Of the patients – who are between ages 19 and their 70s – seen in the past two months, less than 10 percent are visiting a dentist for the first time. The majority, Shamburger said, haven’t seen a dentist in many years; some, since childhood.
And about 50 percent of the MAO dental patients, she added, have not seen a dentist in the past 15 years. For most of them, that is because of financial reasons. For others, it is because “there are still a lot of places where they are met with a certain stigma.
“And they know that here, they’re not going to encounter that,” Shamburger said. “This is a comfortable place where they will come here and receive quality treatment.”
The man sitting in the chair this past week was diagnosed with HIV in December 1991. Fresh out of college and preparing to enter the workforce, he said MAO has helped him through its food bank and medical needs when he lacked insurance.
There were times, he said, he couldn’t become insured because of his HIV status.
“They were there to help me with medicines,” he said. “Medicine for HIV is very expensive. You can spend between $4,000 and $5,000 a month on medicine. Out of pocket.
“Even today, I’m paying like $800 out of pocket a month for insurance. It’s very expensive, but this facility has been here to help us bridge the gap.”
Serving patients with HIV and AIDS at the dental clinic is quickly becoming a way to expand care for patients by learning what else ails them.
“We’ve been able to re-engage some of our patients back into medical care because of the dentist” clinic, said Rozetta Roberts, the clinic’s director. “It has been an opportunity for us to kind of get them back in and readdress issues that we’re hearing.
“This has been a great extension to be able reestablish some care for the patients.”
While Shamburger has taken continuing education classes in caring for patients with HIV and AIDS, she said there are no extra precautions taken because “every dentist should be practicing universal precautions.
“You treat every patient that comes through the door as if they’re infected with an infectious disease,” she said. “In this case, i know that that’s true. But all of the precautions are standard.”
One thing Shamburger has noticed is the number of oral lesions that appear in the mouth that could be indicators of either the initiation of the disease process or the progression of it.
“So just having us here, that’s just another checkpoint that the agency has instilled to make sure things remain under control,” she said. “Having this extra step of preventing periodontal disease so that you’re not getting those abscess – obviously for any person that would be detrimental, but when you consider those things that are seemingly small for someone who is amino compromised, they could really have detrimental effects.”
Shamburger and her husband both worked in public health their entire career before opening their private office. They see the MAO Dental Clinic as an opportunity to continue their service.
“It’s definitely something that we’re passionate about,” she said. “My patients here are by far some of the most appreciative people I’ve ever encountered in any place that I’ve worked. When they come through the door, you can tell that they are just excited to be receiving the service that they are getting.
“It’s more comfortable. They know that this is a safe environment, and they know they will not receive some of the judgement and stigma that you might receive in a private office.”
The 49-year-old who received the MAO services said when he was first diagnosed, that he thought it would be a death sentence.
“But with the help of MAO and all of its services, I’m in great health,” he said. “My doctor said, ‘You’re doing to die of something one day, but it’s not going to be HIV.'”
What is MAO ?
It is a private, nonprofit, Rural Health and Wellness Organization and Community Based AIDS Service Organization that was established in 1987. In 1994, after being awarded Ryan White Care Act Part C funds, MAO transitioned from a volunteer education and service organization to a full-time, health care facility. It offers services including: medication assistance, pharmacist consultations, housing services, an on-site food pantry, mental health counseling/case management, patient education, prevention education, free HIV and Hepatitis C testing, PrEP (Pre -Exposure Prophylaxes) and interpretation services for Spanish-speaking individuals (through MAO’s full-time Hispanic Outreach Worker) and the hearing impaired.