KidSMILES: Creating a Solution from the Ground Up
This Ohio nonprofit fills an important gap in access to care
It’s not hard for dental professionals to identify the needs in their communities. What is hard is working to address those needs by building a clinic from the ground up. But that’s exactly what Dr. Jim Homon and his collaborators did in central Ohio with the creation of KidSMILES Pediatric Dental Clinic.
“It all started 5 years ago when I had an idea,” says Dr. Homon. “There were a lot of kids of low-income families in central Ohio who had dental needs and no real way of dealing with them. We have the Children’s Hospital here in town, but they have a 6- to 9-month backlog for dental patients, and it’s not really for routine care.”
Dr. Homon began talking about the issue with his local colleagues, and discovered that many of them also wanted to do something about the problem, but couldn’t find an effective channel for their efforts. “I said, ‘What if we could build a clinic to benefit the kids of central Ohio, and volunteers could come in for shifts as they please?’” he explains. Together with dentists Jeff Milton, Tim Edwards, Jennifer Livermore, and Fred Sakamoto, as well as his wife, Julie, Dr. Homon set out to make his vision—KidSMILES—a reality.
The Startup Marathon
It wasn’t long before the dramatic differences between operating a dental practice and a nonprofit became very clear. “We spent the first year just getting nonprofit status from the IRS,” he says.
After jumping that first hoop, the real work of fundraising began. “When you’re a startup nonprofit and you haven’t gotten dollar one from anyone, going out and getting that first grant or that first donation is tremendously difficult,” says Dr. Homon. “Everyone wants to back a winner; they don’t want to take the chance and put their money on Jim Homon and his crazy idea. So after getting nonprofit status, for 2 years I was like a man with a dream. I’d go around and speak to whoever would listen to me—dental groups, study clubs, you name it.”
Finally, after meeting with the local NHL team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, KidSMILES caught its first big break. “They just really bought into what we were doing, and they wrote us a check for $50,000,” he says.
After this first breakthrough, Dr. Homon and his fellow board members soon raised another $25,000. With the board financing the additional funds necessary, they finally had enough to start building the clinic. “I knew that once we had bricks and mortar and it wasn’t just me walking around with a dream, more money would flow in,” says Dr. Homon.
It was during this stage of the process that KidSMILES contacted A-dec. “We talked to our local reps and told them about what we were doing and they got very excited about it,” says Dr. Homon. “They donated two full operatories of equipment. Again, when you haven’t actually built a clinic, it’s hard to get outsiders to buy in. But I can say that A-dec was one of those partners that, as soon as I told them about it, they were on board.”
Engaged Volunteers and Patients
KidSMILES began seeing patients in December 2012. In the beginning, the clinic was staffed by board members to develop the routines and procedures to help things run smoothly. But soon volunteer opportunities were opened up to all area dental professionals.
“Right now we have 400 volunteers signed up, including more than 120 dentists,” says Dr. Homon. “We started building that list of volunteers before we even started building the clinic. That’s the other thing that helped sell the concept to grantors—we had this huge pool of people in the dental community who said, ‘Yes, we need this. And we’re willing to do it.’”
Among the volunteers are two pediatric dental fellows from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, who can refer and fast-track patients who need more involved care than what is provided at the clinic. “Some people originally thought we would be kind of competitive with the hospital,” states Dr. Homon, “but it’s not. It’s very complementary.”
KidSMILES is now open almost 3 half-days per week, including Wednesday nights. This schedule makes it easier for both volunteers and working parents to get to the clinic. Patients are charged $10 a visit, and the no-show rate is much lower than a typical nonprofit type dental clinic,” says Dr. Homon.
Reaching Kids in Schools
In addition to operating the clinic, KidSMILES also devotes its resources to dental education in local schools, a project that is helped considerably by its ongoing collaboration with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Their mascot, Stinger, is a big green bee, and he comes with us on visits,” says Dr. Homon. “I’m telling you, as an orthodontist, I can go to a school and maybe get a couple kids excited about seeing me. But with a big green bee on roller blades skating through the hallways with a 6-foot toothbrush, these kids are pumped.”
While on these visits, KidSMILES volunteers are able to meet with school nurses to let them know how to refer families to the clinic. “We give them simple dental supplies and referral pads similar to a prescription pad, and they screen for us and send kids our way. It’s creating a whole network to stop the problem of the lack of dental care in this age group.”
KidSMILES has a long-term goal of seeing 10,000 patients per year, but Dr. Homon is proud of the slow and steady start for the clinic thus far. “I didn’t need to see 10,000 patients my first year,” he says, “but I did need to make every patient visit perfect.” With this passion for providing great care and its engaged group of volunteers, KidSMILES is well on its way to making a big impact in central Ohio.