Milwaukie facility named for Wilsonville resident

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Dr. James Strohschein, left, and lead dental assistant Mundee Whitaker, work on patient Syndi Helms.If smiles in Milwaukie seem to be a little brighter, it could be because the new Joseph Bernard Jr. Dental Clinic recently opened 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 a Wilsonville resident and once mayor of Milwaukie in the early 1960s. He 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. Shirley Bernard still lives in Wilsonville.

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 Renee 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,” she said. “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.”

With the clinic up and running, Perin now can walk patients over to the new facility, where most can be seen the 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 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.

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.

“The Neighborhood Health Center is an offshoot 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.

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 redirect program.

When patients come to the ER with dental pain, they will be redirected 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.

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

“But they can’t have both.” Strohschein said. “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.”

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.

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.

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.An 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.

“We are trying to do everything we can to make oral health care accessible,” he said.

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

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