Two health care professionals who are passionate about children’s health, especially those with special needs, have committed $1 million to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Pediatrician Dennis A. Clements III, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and his wife pediatric dentist Martha Ann Keels, D.D.S., Ph.D., found perfect alignment with their values, philanthropic interests and the unique work being done at the University’s School of Medicine and Dentistry and Eastman Institute for Oral Health (EIOH).
Half of the commitment—a bequest—will establish the Dr. Dennis A. Clements III and Dr. Martha Ann Keels Student Support Fund. The endowed fund will enable medical students to participate in educational, research and clinical activities in countries with health disparities. Dr. Clements, who serves as chief of Pediatric Primary Care at Duke Children’s Hospital, said the individualized, personal education he received at the University of Rochester really shaped the person and professional he’s become.
“The University of Rochester’s philosophy is one we’d like to reinforce and reward,” said Dr. Clements, who graduated from the University in 1972 with his medical degree. “As a medical student, I was given a unique opportunity to go to Uganda. That experience was transforming in my life and I think it would be in other lives. I don’t think you can take somebody where they need to be until you know where they are. If we aren’t aware of other cultures, we certainly can’t help them.”
Dr. Clements also serves as director of Duke’s Exploring Medicine in Foreign Cultures. Every year since 2000, he has taken several students to a village in rural Honduras to provide basic health care. He led efforts to build a maternal and child health clinic that is fully operational today by local staff. “The opportunity for students to travel and learn from other cultures will make them smarter and better at home,” said Dr. Clements. “The students benefit from this experience as much, if not more, than what we give in medical services.”
The remaining $500,000 will establish the Dr. Dennis A. Clements III and Dr. Martha Ann Keels EIOH Pediatric Dentistry Clinic. The funds will allow renovations and technology updates to provide the very best training and care environment for EIOH residents and patients.
“This is an inspiring gift. Dennis and Martha Ann have been very thoughtful about the impact they want to make, and their generosity will help us improve the health of people in our community and around the world,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and UR Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.
“Our gratitude to Dennis and Martha Ann runs deep,” said Eli Eliav, D.M.D., Ph.D., director, Eastman Institute for Oral Health. “Their support will allow us to renovate and update the clinic providing optimum care and education.”
Dr. Keels has provided dental care for children with special needs for more than 30 years. She knows first-hand the numerous challenges that medically compromised children, their families and providers face. Similarly to EIOH, Dr. Keels has patients who travel more than three hours to see her because there are few pediatric dentists who have the training to treat children with special health care needs.
When Drs. Keels and Clements heard that EIOH was recently awarded $3.5 million to train more than 100 pediatric and general dentists, plus numerous hygienists, dental assistants and other staff in treating the unmet oral health needs of patients with special needs and medically complex conditions, they wanted to lend their support, as well.
Advances in medicine have led to increases in life expectancy for patients with childhood congenital or acquired diseases. The current system is unequipped to provide high quality dental care for this growing population of patients as they enter adulthood, resulting in a significant shortage of dental health professionals nationwide. This five-year grant, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aims to bridge that gap.
“It’s incredibly hard work, and I commend Eastman Institute for taking this challenge on,” said Dr. Keels, who has about 100 patients over the age 30 because there are very few general dentists who are comfortable treating an adult with special health care needs. “Training pediatric and general dentists and other staff is a critical step toward reducing disparities for patients with special needs. Our health care system generally provides one doctor and one assistant for one patient. For many of our patients who get bigger and stronger, we need three assistants, plus the patient’s parents, and a nurse. Addressing these many challenges with a team effort will prove successful in the long run to better serve the individuals with special needs.”