It is those children — kids from low-income homes, in fact — who often have been overshadowed in the drama surrounding the Anniston-based Sarrell Dental Clinic and the Alabama Dental Association.
The services provided by the Sarrell clinics across Alabama are irreplaceable in a state with so many low-income families who struggle to provide their children with proper dental care.
It is our hope that a bill passed last week by the state Legislature indeed proves to be the compromise that ends this unfortunate story in a positive manner. Gov. Robert Bentley signed it into law last Thursday.
Granted, it is convenient to look back over the tension between Sarrell, the ADA and the UAB School of Dentistry and believe it a drama that never should have occurred. The meteoric growth — and success — of the Sarrell clinics created strong competition in the dental business in this state. That UAB pulled its dental students out of the Sarrell clinics during the height of the controversy was an act beneath the school’s usual high standards.
UAB’s dental students unquestionably benefited from the on-the-job training they received while working at the Sarrell clinics. That decision helped neither the students nor UAB’s weak argument that their students weren’t receiving proper oversight at Sarrell.
As a nonprofit that concentrated on treating children on Medicaid, Sarrell followed a different formula than many of Alabama’s for-profit practices. That alone set the Sarrell clinics apart, as did its 11 statewide clinics and its one mobile unit. Sarrell’s footprint and influence were sizeable, and they were increasing each year.
Yet, Sarrell’s mission remained indisputable — providing quality health care to children of low-income families. That UAB’s students benefited from having added opportunities for advanced training was an added benefit.
That said, it’s easy today to applaud the results of this compromise legislation that made its way through the state House and Senate.
Now signed into law, the bill — which was backed by Sarrell and Alabama Board of Dental Examiners — requires nonprofits to register with the dental board and follow its guidelines. In return, Sarrell officials say they will end their antitrust litigation against the dental association.
“The passage of our bill is a huge victory for the children of Alabama and Sarrell Dental,” Sarrell CEO Jeffrey Parker told The Star. “The passage of this bill will not change one single thing as far as how we operate our not-for-profit, clinically, organizationally or strategically.”
Modern-day medicine is often a big-bucks business that often puts fiscal concerns in the same conversation with patient care. That rests at the heart of America’s ongoing health-care reform talks.
Here in Alabama, however, the Sarrell saga shows that health-care providers can think out of the box fiscally and keep their highest concern — patient care — first on the list.