RICHMOND -- An expanded and refurbished dental clinic opened Friday at a Richmond elementary school that sponsors and school officials hope will be a model for schools to offer expanded health services to students in low-income neighborhoods.
Recognizing that one of the greatest barriers to learning is the lack of adequate health care and nutrition, these schools would provide medical and dental services on campus to make sure students are in proper physical and mental condition to learn.
The new clinic at Peres Elementary School, on the north edge of Richmond's Iron Triangle neighborhood, will serve as a model for delivering health services to students in the West Contra Costa district, delivering free dental care to the school's 552 students, according to school board President Charles Ramsey.
The clinic was built with a $500,000 investment from Measure D, a school construction bond passed in 2010.
"It's the only clinic of its kind, probably in the state," Ramsey said.
The concept of dental care in West Contra Costa schools started in 1989 when Kensington dentist Dr. Hercules Morphopoulos began recruiting dentists to provide dental sealants, a decay-preventive procedure, for Richmond students.
One of the dentists Morphopoulos brought in, Dr. Daniel Tanita, came up with the idea for the on-site clinic at Peres.
In 1997, Tanita founded a one-chair clinic that was housed in what had been a janitorial closet. He ran that on a part-time basis for several years until the clinic had to close because he could no longer afford a dental clerk to keep track of records and appointments, said former Peres Principal Jean Hansen.
The genesis for reopening the clinic and building the new facility came in 2009 when Tanita was giving Ramsey a dental exam and Ramsey asked how the clinic was doing.
"When he heard that it was no longer operating, Mr. Ramsey wanted to get it up and running again," Tanita said.
After the clinic reopened, Tanita and other volunteers began doing all the dental work on site.
Previously, Tanita performed only dental examinations and referred the Peres students who needed X-rays and fillings to other dentists in the community, who did the work at their offices.
"Some of the kids we used to refer out would fall through the cracks and not get the work done," Tanita said. "Now we can make sure they get everything they need right here."
The new clinic is housed in a 400-square-foot space off the main office. It has four computers and monitors and two state-of-the-art dental stations with the latest imaging systems.
Now that the Peres clinic is complete, the district will begin construction on a similar facility at Coronado Elementary near downtown Richmond, also using money from Measure D.
If its latest bond measure, Measure E, passes in November, the district will build more clinics at other schools, Ramsey said.
"Dental hygiene and dental health are critical," Ramsey said. "They're 100 percent part of the educational process."
The district also provides mental health services, including crisis intervention and counseling, at all five of its comprehensive high schools.
"This model is a good model," Tanita said. "It's something we can expand to other schools and other districts."