Philadelphia — Penn Dental Medicine’s Morton Amsterdam Dean, Dr. Mark S. Wolff, was recognized by Philadelphia-based Nationalities Service Center (NSC) for the School’s service to refugees and other vulnerable populations as one of the honorees at NSC’s annual benefit, Global Tastes: The Centennial Edition. The event and award presentation was held March 24 at the University City Science Center.
In 2019, Penn Dental Medicine started its Dental Care Center for Vulnerable Populations to provide dental care to refugees and survivors of psychological and physical violence in partnership with NSC, a refugee services organization, which refers its clients there for dental care. Dean Wolff had helped to establish a similar center while at New York University College of Dentistry prior to coming to Penn Dental Medicine and wanted to extend Penn Dental Medicine’s community outreach to this population.
“The Dental Care Center for Vulnerable Populations epitomizes one of our goals as a school: To find the most vulnerable people in Philadelphia and to bring oral healthcare and dignity to them through their smile,” says Dean Wolff. “And for our students, working with these patients is an incredible learning experience demonstrating their care and empathy and gives them personal satisfaction that is incredible as well.”
With support from Dean Wolff and under the direction of Dr. Olivia Sheridan, Professor of Clinical Restorative Dentistry, the Dental Care Center for Vulnerable Populations has grown and evolved since the launch. Two days a week, fourth-year honors students now see patients in the Center, including individuals referred from NSC as well as internal referrals from the School’s patient population who self-identify as intimate partner violence survivors and sex-trafficked adolescents from the Adolescent Protective Collaborative at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition, as a result of the large, recent influx of Afghani refugees to the Philadelphia area, an additional clinical care day was established starting in January of this year, specifically to serve these newly resettled Afghani refugees, also referred by NSC. A cohort of 40 third-year students are now providing care to this population a full day every week. Over 150 patient visits have been completed since January 2022. In both areas, students volunteer their time in addition to their other responsibilities and provide a full range of restorative and preventive care, working with the School’s specialty programs for additional specialized procedures that may be needed. All care is provided free of charge.
“Dean Wolff has shown incredible leadership in creating this unique and amazing resource for vulnerable newcomers in our region,” says Margaret O’Sullivan, Executive Director of NSC. “The clinic provides more than dental care, it offers a return of dignity and healing for our clients.”
NSC, which marks its 100th anniversary this year, serves approximately 5,000 immigrants and refugees annually, providing health access, refugee resettlement, ESL classes, employment readiness, free and low-cost legal counsel, and holistic treatment for trauma.