If smiles in Milwaukie seem to be a little brighter, it could be because the new Joseph Bernard Jr. Dental Clinic opened on July 9, in a building near the west entrance to Providence Milwaukie Hospital.

The clinic is operated by Neighborhood Health Center, a federally qualified health center providing medical, mental, dental and other health services for low-income and insured patients.

It is named for Bernard, who was mayor of Milwaukie in the early 1960s, and who had been an active Providence Milwaukie Foundation Board member since 1989; he died June 18, 2012.

“Joe was involved with the planning for the clinic at the time of his passing, and the project was very dear to him,” said Lesley Townsend, Providence Milwaukie Hospital Foundation executive director. After he died, Shirley, Bernard’s wife, proposed that all the remembrances in his name be applied to the dental clinic, but it was foundation board member Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse Comics, who proposed that the clinic be named after Bernard, Townsend said.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Dr. James Strohschein, left, and lead dental assistant Mundee Whitaker, work on patient Syndi Helms.

Redirecting from ER

The Community Assets and Needs Assessment, a comprehensive community survey administered by Providence Health & Services every three years, identified access to oral health care as a primary need and concern for the Milwaukie area and Clackamas County, said Renée Boutin King, manager, Public Affairs in Clackamas County for Providence Health & Services.

She said the survey indicated that more than 1,600 patients with dental needs visit Providence Milwaukie Hospital’s emergency department each year, primarily for dental pain and abscess. About 45 percent of these patients return to the emergency department several times, and approximately 80 percent of the patients are on Medicaid or uninsured.

The emergency room is “not the best place to come for dental pain, since it is just a short fix,” said Rebecca Perin, Providence Health & Services Emergency Services patient guide. As a member of the Emergency Department staff, it is her job to work with patients to connect them with the best care for their needs.

“When an individual who is uninsured or uneducated about dental insurance is in dental pain, they go to the ER. But that is a kind of Band-Aid if they don’t take care of their roots or dental decay, and it is terribly expensive as well,” Perin added.

With the clinic up and running, she can now walk patients over to the new facility and most can be seen that same day.

“Then they have a sustained dentist, someone they can see over and over again,” she said, noting that the clinic also provides education about preventive care, like screenings and cleanings.

Patients can make an appointment with the clinic — most insurances are covered — and a sliding scale is offered for patients who qualify.

One of the major advantages of the clinic is its proximity to Providence Milwaukie Hospital, and thus is on a few bus lines, Perin said. “It serves the Milwaukie demographic who are limited in their resources for medical needs. It fills the gap; dental health is part of good health.”

Getting established

The Joseph Bernard Jr. Dental Clinic has two dentists, Dr. James Strohschein, dental director, and Dr. Mike Plunkett, dental director for CareOregon, a nonprofit health services organization providing support to a variety of health care organizations.

“The Neighborhood Health Center is an off-shoot of CareOregon, with the intention of providing direct dental care. The first clinic in this area was established in Oregon City in October of 2011,” Strohschein said. He spends three days at the clinic. Plunkett is there one day, and there are always two dental assistants at all times, plus an office receptionist, who speaks Spanish, Strohschein said. Ultimately, the clinic will be staffed at 1.75 full-time employees, he said.

Advantages of the clinic include easy patient access to the location, proximity to so many patients, and a relationship with the hospital’s referral service, called the re-direct program.

When patients come to the ER with dental pain, they will be re-directed to the dental clinic, and that “alleviates the burden of repeated ER visits,” he said. Patients still pay the standard ER fee, but their visit to the dental clinic at that time is free, under a grant program, Strohschein said.

When patients visit the ER during hours the clinic is not open, they see a medical professional, and are offered two options: They can get pain medication and/or antibiotics, or they can get a referral to the dental clinic the next day.

“But they can’t have both. They can’t have repetitive requests for medications. They need definite dental treatment, and the majority of the patients can be provided for on the day of their visit,” Strohschein said.

The dental clinic is a “public-health oriented clinic, not a cosmetic practice. We do preventive, restorative and surgery, and for patients we can’t manage, we refer them to specialists within the Oregon Health Plan program,” he said.

Community comes together

Although the clinic has only been open a short time, “reactions from patients have been phenomenal. They are happy to see us here, and I have had a full schedule, seeing 12 patients a day,” Strohschein said, adding that patients of all ages are welcome at the clinic.

To help with staffing, dental hygiene students from Pacific University will be doing hygiene and education rotations at the clinic, and eventually fourth-year dental students from Oregon Health & Science University will do externships at the Milwaukie clinic.

“This is the perfect place for them to come and practice public-health dentistry,” Strohschein said, noting that both he and Plunkett are adjunct faculty at OHSU.

The partnership between Providence Milwaukie Hospital and Neighborhood Health Center “provides a window into the possibilities of hospitals and large medical groups partnering with community-health clinics and dental practices willing to treat lower-income patients,” Plunkett said.Noting that he has always seen patients in a community-health environment, he added that he has taken pride in the community coming together to “solve a significant need, that of access to dental care.”

Another example of community building is the fact that the Joseph Bernard Jr. Dental Clinic will begin working with Milwaukie High School students in the fall. A dental hygienist will go to the campus clinic two days a month, and if students meet eligibility requirements, they also be can seen at the clinic, Strohschein said.

Syndi Helms, a Molalla resident, said she thinks the world of Strohschein, noting that he fixed her front teeth “to perfection.”

She added, “I think the world of that man; what is special about him is his demeanor and the heart he gives his patients.”

She has experienced anxiety during visits to other dentists in the past, Helms said, but noted that she trusts Strohschein so much and is so relaxed during an appointment with him that she doesn’t even require Novocain.

Filling a big need

“Dental care is often an overlooked part of community health, and this partnership is a great example of how successful this can be. Medical and dental providers have a common goal and an underlying mission to improve the health and well-being of all members of the community,” Plunkett said.

Because that is the same goal as the Providence Milwaukie Hospital Foundation Board, the group started discussing how it could get the ball rolling for the clinic in the spring 2012, Townsend said.

It turned out that the Neighborhood Health Center had established a model of a dental clinic in Oregon City on South Beavercreek Road, and the foundation board decided to replicate it in Milwaukie, she said.

The board’s goal was to raise $447,000 to remodel the space near Providence Milwaukie Hospital, and to purchase equipment. More than half the funds were raised from donations in Bernard’s memory, and with a donation of $50,000 from CareOregon, the clinic was able to open. A bit less than $100,000 is still needed to bring the clinic up to its full staffing component, and donations are more than welcome, Townsend said.

“I am so impressed by how this project has flourished with community partnerships and community leaders and organizations,” Townsend added.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Dr. James Strohschein demonstrates the workings of a machine which lubricates and cleans drills to Lesley Townsend, left, and Rebecca Perin.

Bernard Clinic

What: Joseph Bernard Jr. Dental Clinic

Where: 3300 S.E. Dwyer Drive, Milwaukie

Details: Call 503-850-4479 for an appointment.

More: For more information about the clinic or to make a donation, contact Lesley Townsend, Providence Milwaukie Hospital Foundation executive director, at 503-513-8625, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit the foundation website at

Open house: Neighborhood Health Center will host an open house on Friday, Aug. 16, in honor of National Health Center Week. The clinic will provide tours and gift bags to visitors attending the reception that begins at 12:30 p.m. and concludes at 1:30 after remarks by Director of Quality Ela Rasmussen and Dr. James Strohschein.

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