University offers affordable dental care, therapy

When a hospital’s orthodontics clinic closed down in Greensburg, Pa., local healthcare professionals asked the administration of Seton Hill University to continue the service. At that time, there wasn’t any kind of dental school at the university, but that wasn’t a deterrent.

“We saw this as a way of giving and serving those in financial need,” Dr. Mary Ann Gawelek, provost and dean of faculty, told Our Sunday Visitor. “At the same time, we would be creating an academic program for professionals so that they would be taught that serving the poor was something that they should do in their professional life.”

Seton Hill University Center for Orthodontics opened off-site in 2010, established in the spirit of the founding Sisters of Charity and the mission of Seton Hill.

“Clearly, the issue is transforming the world, which is in our mission statement,” Gawelek said. “It addresses the Catholic social teachings in understanding the needs for the common good and the preferential options for the poor.”

“These folks are families in need, and they have a right to adequate and appropriate health care,” she added. “We know that orthodontic procedures improve the overall quality of life.”

Dental care

The orthodontics clinic has 21 residents (already dentists), three interns, eight clinical faculty for supervision and three orthodontists. Twin brothers Drs. Daniel and Donald Rinchuse have been the driving force behind the program, Gawelek said, and Dr. Dan Dibagno recently joined the staff.

Patients come from southwestern and central Pennsylvania and out of state. They include children with limited private or medical assistance insurance or families that self-pay the fees that are about half the cost of services at a private practice.

“This is a way of serving children who would be underserved in another way,” Gawelek said. “Adults seek care, too, because there’s a growing phenomenon of folks who didn’t have care as a child, either because of family attitudes or because of the cost.”

Mark DeMaria, 28, of New Alexandria, Pa., was an undergrad at Seton Hill, graduated from Temple University School of Dentistry in Philadelphia and returned to the university for the orthodontics program. As the youngest of four sons, he went along to all his brothers’ orthodontics appointments, so by the age of 7, he knew his career direction.

“We are treating people who, if we weren’t here, would go without treatment,” he said. “For many of them, the clinic is a last-ditch effort for something that is really life-changing. Orthodontics should be for everybody, not just those who can afford it. It’s a blessing to be able to give hope and satisfaction to people.”

Marriage and Family Therapy

Seton Hill’s Marriage and Family Therapy program fills several needs.

“We  saw that there were not enough fully trained marriage and family therapists in this area, so we decided to start that program,” Gawelek said. “Then we decided that there was enough need to provide counseling services for families in the community.”

The center operates as a practicum for students who also fulfill their required supervised hours in other community settings. Services are provided on a sliding scale fee for clients who are uninsured or underinsured, and they agree to having supervisors observe their sessions through two-way mirrors or video recordings.

Students and clients benefit from the clinic, and the focus on “well-functioning family structures,” Gawelek said, is in line with Catholic social teachings. The program additionally creates professionals who can continue their work out in the community.

Christine Maryanna Gabriel, 25, wants to eventually return to Malaysia.

“I want to get licensed, and my goal is to go home and create an awareness (for mental wellness),” she said. “Nobody talks about it. Nobody addresses it.”

Her work at the center and also at a social services agency has opened her eyes, she said, to some of the serious issues, like substance abuse, that families are facing. “Even their basic needs are not being met, and we talk about how to take care of them, besides the emotional issues,” she said.

Gabriel strives to combine her counseling skills with her own faith experiences that enable her to reach out with the love of Christ.

“This program is challenging me to be fully authentic,” she said. “That is the gift that I bring to my clients.”      

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

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