Midvale CBC staff and volunteers continue to provide critical care for communityJul 29, 2020 11:59AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
The Midvale Community Building Community (CBC) clinic provides affordable medical and dental services that are needed now more than ever. But the clinic has come close to closing its doors since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“It was a little scary at the beginning,” said Mauricio Agramont, executive director of Midvale CBC. “We had a tough ethical decision to make. We have to serve our community and at the same time, maintain our volunteer providers’ safety. We made the decision to keep the clinic open with the providers willing to come serve the community.”
The University of Utah School of Medicine normally provides medical students and instructors to operate the medical clinic. When they were no longer available, Dr. David Sundwall, a long-time volunteer, offered to run the clinic on Tuesday and Wednesday nights to keep it open.
At first, services were limited to prescription refills and follow-up phone calls to established patients.
“Everyone still needs medicine refilled, even during a pandemic,” said Agramont. “We were able to help a lot of people who had no other access to other clinics.”
Dr. Cleo Stephanides Cheney offered to provide emergency dental care.
“The biggest challenge we faced at the clinic was being able to see patients with limited time, equipment and staff,” Cheney said. “Our main goal at the height of the pandemic was to keep patients out of hospital emergency rooms for dental pain to lessen their exposure to COVID-19 and to decrease the burden on the emergency medical staff.”
“She came here every time there was an emergency,” said Agramont. “And our staff had to be here to put charts together. Their commitment to serve the community is remarkable.”
During the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff was kept to a minimum to decrease the risk of exposure. Generally, there have been three people running administration, obtaining supplies and scheduling patients.
“There were limited types of procedures that we could perform in an effort to limit any respiratory aerosols created by dental drills,” Cheney said. “Because we were limited to emergency treatment only, I offered temporary treatment and extractions until patients could be seen when permission was given to continue elective dental treatment in May.”
Patients are screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering the clinic and are required to wear masks and apply hand sanitizer. All doctors and assistants wear full personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We have to use safety equipment at a high rate,” said Agramont. “The physicians and assistants put on gowns and masks, treat the patient, then change the whole ensemble.”
At one point the clinic was again on the verge of closing, this time due to lack of protective gear.
“Salt Lake County really stepped up and provided the PPE needed to continue the clinics,” said Agramont. “Without their help, we would have ended services in May.”
Cheney was also able to donate N-95 masks from her private practice.
“I feel so lucky to be able to volunteer at the Midvale CBC and be of service to the wonderful people who really need treatment,” Cheney said. “At this time, I am the only dentist who provides care for patients on Fridays. We have a very long patient waitlist. To continue to serve our Midvale community, we need more volunteer dentists and more resources.”
Other challenges have kept Agramont on his toes. The usual cleaning crew quit once the pandemic hit, so the clinic hired people from the community.
“They weren’t planning on working, but they stepped in because I needed someone to clean the clinic,” said Agramont. “If that piece doesn’t fall into place, the whole operation falls apart. From the most basic tasks to the most difficult, everyone stepped up to the plate.”
Eventually, the medical and dental clinics, located at 49 W. Center St., opened back up for non-emergency care. The hours vary, so the best way to make an appointment is to call 801-574-6172. That number will also connect community members to resources and education about COVID-19.
“We’re educating our families in respect of the symptoms and learning what to do if they’re exposed to someone who is positive (for COVID-19),” Agramont said. “What is quarantine, what do you do during the time after testing but before you get the results? Community workers are answering all these questions.”
Midvale CBC is one of several organizations being funded to do this work by the Office of Health Disparities Reduction at the Utah Department of Health.
Other key funders that keep the clinic running include the Making A Difference Foundation, the United Way and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“So many people are stepping up to help others and doing more than they usually do,” said Agramont. “That teamwork kept the clinic working. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder than I have these last three months. And the work is just starting. We have these people’s health in our hands. It’s a big responsibility that we take seriously.”