White Bird Clinic: "The Safety Net Beneath The Social Safety Net"

Oct 4, 2018

Eugene’s White Bird Clinic was founded in 1970 with a mission to help the homeless and indigent with a variety of human services. The agency offers drug and alcohol counseling, crisis support and medical services. White Bird just purchased a new building to expand its dental program. For thousands of people, this clinic may be their only contact with a dentist.

(Hear sounds of teeth cleaning/patient and hygienist talking)

“Hi, I’m Danielle LaRue. I’m a dentist here at White Bird.”

LaRue splits her time between a private practice and here. She says it’s rewarding. Her dentistry could save lives.

White Bird provides dental services to thousands of under or uninsured patients each year.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

“People don’t think that the mouth is connected to the entire body,” says LaRue. “But you know, all the bacteria can do a lot of negative things to the cardiovascular system and just health in general.”

LaRue sees the positive impact when a person finally gets dental care.

“I had a patient this morning that told me he didn’t realize how great he could feel,” LaRue says. “And then we took out a bunch of bad teeth and how just overall he feels healthier.”

This dental clinic, with six exam rooms, served over 2,000 patients last year. White Bird expects to more than double those numbers when they move into a new building next year. LaRue looks forward to working in an expanded space. She hopes a new dental clinic on busy Pearl Street in downtown Eugene will bring in more patients and more dentists. 

Dentist Danielle LaRue "is honored" to work at White Bird Clinic.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

“You know people are gonna see it and their gonna walk by it, LaRue says. “Now we’ll have more room for more providers if they want to help us out.”

There are currently seven dentists and five hygienists working for White Bird Clinic. They also partner with Arizona State University, hosting dental students as interns. Their current building contains both the dental and medical clinics. That is- until June. White Bird’s Executive Coordinator Miles Mabray.

“When dental moves out of this space,” Mabray says, “medical is going to be able to double in size.”

Mabray says the investment White Bird has made in the new building will translate to thousands more people receiving services.

Chris Hecht works in outreach and fundraises for White Bird. He’s watched how the population of people seeking help has changed. It isn’t just the homeless anymore. 

White Bird Dental plans to double their capacity with a new building.
Credit Tiffany Eckert

“There is a growing number of folks that are caught in the middle. On paper they don’t qualify for federal and state programs,” Hecht says. “If you take a look at their lives, they are really scrambling to make ends meet. And those folks may have some insurance but it comes with really high co-pays or deductibles that they really can’t afford.”

Or they are uninsured. Part of the dental program includes helping get patients signed up for a health care plan. White Bird services are charged on a sliding scale to accommodate all income levels. No one is turned away.

Credit Tiffany Eckert

Hecht and Mabray are pretty new to White Bird. They both say it is humbling to be a part of an agency like this one. After nearly 50 years of helping the community, Mabray says White Bird is needed by more people than ever.

“We’re the safety net below the social safety net,” Mabray says. “Whether it’s preventative care, urgent care, they wake up in the morning-have nowhere else to go—they come to White Bird.”

(Hear background sound of dentist and patient talking about White Bird.)

CAHOOTS van drives by White Bird Clinic. The mobile crisis unit assists on the streets.
Credit Tiffany Eckert