2017-04-21 / Health & Wellness

Hygienist, Free Clinic team up to help seniors

Adults 60 and older can get free dental care
By Melissa Simon

‘NOBLE WORK’—At left, mobile hygienist Justin Urbano talks about the Free Clinic of Simi Valley on April 17. Above, he performs a teeth cleaning on Demaree Shurtleff, 64, of Chatsworth. ‘NOBLE WORK’—At left, mobile hygienist Justin Urbano talks about the Free Clinic of Simi Valley on April 17. Above, he performs a teeth cleaning on Demaree Shurtleff, 64, of Chatsworth. Justin Urbano slipped on his gloves as Demaree “Bon” Shurtleff settled into the dentist’s chair for her teeth cleaning.

It was Shurtleff’s second visit to the nonprofit Free Clinic of Simi Valley at 1725 Deodora St. Her first visit earlier this year was for X-rays.

The 64-year-old Chatsworth resident was the first of a handful of patients Monday to get a free cleaning or oral cancer screening from Urbano, who is licensed as a registered dental hygienist in alternative practice. The license allows him to provide services in places other than traditional dental offices, such as the homes of seniors or various clinics throughout the county.

Shurtleff said the free clinic has been an “absolute blessing” for her.

Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers “And I’m so grateful for (Urbano) because I wouldn’t be able to afford dental care otherwise,” she said. “The Affordable Care Act doesn’t cover dental expenses . . . so if you have something majorly wrong, you have to pay out of pocket.”

For the past year, Urbano has been volunteering his time as a mobile hygienist through the Senior Dental Program sponsored by the nonprofit California Wellness Foundation. The 28-yearold Camarillo resident teamed up with the free clinic after the Simi Valley nonprofit received a $225,000 grant from the foundation to provide dental care for low-income adults and seniors 60 years and older in southeast Ventura County and nearby communities.

The grant money, which was received in 2015, is for “operating support to sustain oral health care” for low-income residents for three years, according to the foundation’s website.

While the grant provides Urbano with a small stipend to cover his mileage, the hygienist said he does not receive compensation for the services he provides. He volunteers 16 hours a week for the program.

“Free dental care is a much-needed service. I’ve met so many seniors who constantly tell me that their medical insurance only covers one teeth cleaning and one set of X-rays per year,” Urbano said.

“A lot of seniors in our community need regular cleanings with a recommended checkup every three months, dentures or partials, or some other more serious work, but Medi-Cal won’t pay for it,” he continued. “That’s where I come in, because I’ll try to help them fill the gaps and find the resources they need to take care of themselves.”

Olga Lafflito, office manager for the free clinic, said an estimated 10 percent of the county’s roughly 165,000 seniors cannot afford dental treatment.

“We have a tremendous need with seniors, especially because it’s very hard for them to afford care and then to get transportation to the clinic to receive those services,” Lafflito said.

“Not many people have dental insurance, and if they do, it only covers a little bit, so the fact that (Urbano) volunteers his time is just amazing,” she continued. “Those who come in are so overwhelmed and grateful for what he does, they sometimes cry.”

Shurtleff said Urbano and the other clinic volunteers are “angels sent from heaven because they’re doing such wonderful, noble work.”

When he is not volunteering at clinics in Simi, Oxnard, Ventura and other parts of the county on Saturdays, Sundays and every other Monday, Urbano is working at University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry in Los Angeles, where he provides teeth cleanings and oral health screenings for children up to 5 years old through First Five.

“I went into the public health field to help people in need. And I’ve seen that need,” the hygienist said. “I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do so far; I just wish I could do more.”

Residents 60 years or older may make an appointment for free cleanings or oral health screenings with Urbano by sending an email to justin@freeclinicsv.com or calling (805) 236-0125.

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