By Keenan Gibbons and Christopher Schobert
Published October 9, 2023
The Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic, which has been providing free health care to uninsured and underinsured Western New Yorkers since its founding in 2001 by a group of UB medical students, has expanded its services to include dental care, thanks to a 2023 UB Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Community Partnership Development Seed Grant.
The seed grant is enabling the clinic to provide dental screenings and follow-up to promote long-term dental care to Lighthouse patients, as well as clients of the Seneca-Babcock Community Association. The grant is a collaboration between the School of Dental Medicine, School of Public Health and Health Professions, and their community partners at Seneca-Babcock.
Also affiliated with the grant are Joseph E. Gambacorta, DDS, School of Dental Medicine (academic lead); Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, LMSW, School of Dental Medicine (academic lead); Daniel J. Kruger, PhD, School of Public Health and Health Professions; Jessica S. Kruger, PhD, School of Public Health and Health Professions;
and Brian Pilarski, Seneca-Babcock Community Association (community lead).
The Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic is the student-managed clinic of UB’s health sciences units, including the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
“Our mission is to serve the uninsured and underinsured in Buffalo for their health needs, and part of overall health is dental health,” says Jessica S. Kruger, PhD, clinical associate professor, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions, and co-investigator on the seed grant. “Dental health is often forgotten and is really a luxury, sadly, in our society. The seed grant has enabled us to screen people for dental health and connect them to services.”
Kruger and the Lighthouse team stress the importance of dental care to clinic patients. Not only does it impact how and what people eat, but it impacts overall health.
“It is not just about your smile,” Kruger says. “It is about systemic health. Also, there is the self-confidence and quality-of-life aspect. What is the first thing someone notices about you? Your smile and or your lack of smile because you are embarrassed.”
She notes that dental pain can also lead to loss of revenue and work. “We are going to keep supporting upward financial mobility by providing this medical care so that people can get a job and be able to take care of their families,” Kruger says, adding that having a dentist on site makes for a personalized and comfortable experience. “It changes people’s perspective,” she says.
Kruger explains that Lighthouse provides comprehensive care — “anything from lab work to connecting people to external services to even getting them to the clinic.”
“It is a student-run clinic, which means students do everything,” she says. “They are the schedulers, they provide care and they make the decisions on how we run things. It is a unique model to teach leadership and provide services to the community.”
For the student participants, volunteering at Lighthouse is an impactful experience, one that strengthens their bonds with members of the community. Grace Kim, a graduate student in the dental school, has volunteered at Lighthouse since 2018, as both an undergraduate and graduate student.
“This clinic has had a huge impact on my career trajectory and perspectives on patient-centered care, and Lighthouse has greatly improved my dental school experience as a whole,” Kim explains. “Volunteering here allows me to take a step back, give perspective and see patients in a model that is more than just their teeth. The skills I have learned from Lighthouse — not just from patients but from other students — have shaped what kind of dentist I would like to be: a dentist who is well-versed and rounded in all areas of patient-centered care.”
The Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic offers general health care, including work physicals, as well as OB/GYN and dermatology care (by appointment only). All care is supervised by licensed physicians.
Located in the Community Health Center of Buffalo at 34 Benwood Ave., the clinic is open from 5-8 p.m. on Fridays. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are preferred; call 716-222-0805 to schedule an appointment. For more information, visit the clinic’s website.