Grant gives reason to smile

Expansion will allow Good News clinic to provide dental services

Just in time for Christmas, Rockwood's Good News Community Health Center has been given the go-ahead to begin renovating a house next door to expand its services.

The clinic, located in a ranch-style house in the 18000 block of Southeast Stark St., this summer bought the house next door with $105,355 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds granted by the City of Gresham.

The grant will allow the clinic to add dental services to its list of offerings, said Dr. Bob Sayson, the clinic's director.

Sayson practiced internal medicine in Gresham from 1991 to 2006 before opening the clinic in Gresham's Rockwood area in May of 2007. He and his wife Alice sold his house and agreed to live off their savings in order to fund the faith-based, nonprofit enterprise.

Since then, the clinic has received a $79,000 grant to pay for an executive director from the Northwest Christian Community Foundation. Next year, the foundation has pledged to provide another $40,000 to the clinic.

But with the economy nose-diving shortly after Sayson opened the clinic, demand has been through the roof. With visits costing just $10 - a fee that also can be paid through volunteer work in the community - the working poor, uninsured, unemployed and homeless have flocked to the clinic.

Space is so tight, the largely volunteer staff has treated patients in the restroom.

'We have to tell people we can't take new patients until the New Year,' Sayson said. The clinic also has had to trade its walk-ins-welcomed approach for appointments when lines drew out the door.

Now, between 15 and 25 patients are served each day at the clinic. But Sayson noted a profound need for dental care in 2010 when the Oregon Dental Association hosted a free 2-day dental clinic at the Oregon Convention Center.

More than 1,500 patients waited in long lines, some over night in the bitter cold. Sayson later treated some of them for bronchitis caught while waiting for the free dental services.

'For people to be lining up waiting in the cold,' Sayson said, 'there's got to be a more dignified way to treat people.'

So, the clinic bought the old house next door in July. Plans are to move services offered in the current building - medical, mental health and education - into the new one next door, and dedicate the original clinic space to dentistry.

Sayson, has been 'chomping at the bit' to start work renovating the new house, but red tape associated with the federal funding kept his army of volunteers in limbo.

Now that the various levels of federally required reviews are in, volunteers are free to start renovating, said Elaine Fultz, an associate planner with Gresham's Community Revitalization Program.

'It's a wonderful project,' Fultz said. 'They want to get going, and nobody understands that better than us.'