BONNERS FERRY — On May 21, Hank Willis DDS hosted a free dental care day at his office. Willis and his wife frequently make trips to places where they can help people in need with dental care, and this year, they decided to keep their services local.
“I have done some dental mission trips over the years in Haiti, Mexico, the Philippines, Africa, but this last spring, we didn’t do any mission trips, and I wanted something,” Willis said. “So we realized that there were a lot of people in our community that need care and don’t have access to care, or a way to pay for it, so we decided to do that as our mission for this year.”
It was well received, and the teams plan to collaborate in the future and provide another care day to the community.
The schedule filled within a week of the announcement, showcasing a local need for dental care for those financially struggling.
“How quickly the schedule filled up helped us realize how much of a need there is locally,” Willis said.
With about 26 patients and more than 30 extractions, the office of Hank Willis remained busy. There were many phone-in appointments made for that day, as well as various walk-in customers that they were able to fit in with the additional help of Dr. Lauren Gheliano.
“There were various people that reached out on Facebook that couldn’t make it that day or they had car trouble and couldn’t make it, so I would like to do it again,” Willis said.
They are looking toward a date in September, but are still working out the details.
“One idea was to get the school counselors to refer students that need care and then they can get the word out to parents who then can schedule,” said Willis, speaking about ways to improve the next care day.
A day after the Willis team announced their plan, Dr. Mark Beazer, DMD, received wind of their idea through his wife, who works closely with the food bank. She spoke to Beazer about the idea and suggested to him that they should help.
“When she heard of this service Dr. Willis was planning, she encouraged me to assist in some way,” Beazer said. “So together we decided to approach Dr. Willis and see if we could help.”
With the Willis’ involvement in the local food bank and community support, they jumped on the opportunity to “pay it forward” and help locals in need. There were also funds for the food bank, A Blessed Beginning and Hope House, reaching $300 in donations from visitors on the free care day. There were also donations of food made to the food bank during that day.
The Medicine Man Pharmacy in Super 1 Foods donated antibiotics and other prescriptions that were needed by patients in need during the days activities, assisting in a needed aspect of the teams day of care.
“Pretty much all of the prescriptions that we wrote that day were covered, even for those without medical insurance,” Willis said.
Last summer, Lauren Gheliano moved to Bonners Ferry from Alaska with her husband, where she currently works off and on in a dental clinic. Between her travels from Alaska to Idaho, she was able to participate in the free care day that Willis and his team put on, making the day go more smoothly and they were able to care for more patients.
“She really helped to move it along,” Willis said. “We would have been way behind schedule.”
The group has continued to collaborate and plan for another care day for the community members with hopes to bring more people and businesses into the mix so that people can get much needed health care and in turn pay it forward in anyway they can.
After a busy day of caring for their fellow community members, the team, led with Willis’s idea, brought to Boundary County a service in the background that was needed for local community members.