by Kitty Wheeler
Coastal Journal contributor
BATH — The Jessie Albert Dental and Orthodontic Center, located at 171 Congress St., Bath, has been given a major makeover and an expanded mission. It has been a thriving clinic for 11 years at its “new” location, but now it’s more than just a clinic: It’s a work of art, and a tribute to the ways in which communities can come together around something worth doing.
A program of Catholic Charities, the center serves 4,000 patients, 3,600 for dental care and 400 for orthodontic treatment. Both children and adults are served. Its hours are 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Fridays.
The clinic first started in 1971. Jessie Albert, a Community Vista volunteer, was concerned about the desperate need for dental health facilities for area children as well as her own six offspring.
She organized community support for this project, and Bath Iron Works agreed to give the former railroad station building on its site to the city for a dental clinic. Catholic Charities was brought in to sponsor the clinic and provide the initial seed money to get it established. The dental clinic was a memorial to Albert, who died in 1970.
By 2000, the dental clinic handled almost 5,000 appointments. The need for more space became acute, as did a growing waiting list for services. Catholic Charities negotiated with the city of Bath for months and ultimately agreed to turn over the train station to the city in exchange for a tract of land on Congress Street to build new facilities.
The clinic has two full-time dentists and one part time dentist. There are four dental hygienists and one orthodontic specialist. The total staff is 19. Elizabeth Graff and her husband, an orthodontist, retired to Westport Island six years ago from Binghamton, New York. She has a background in interior design, but, when she married Dr. Ted Graff, she became the Chief Financial Officer for his orthodontic practice in New York.
Dr. Graff wanted to continue his practice in Maine, so he became licensed and moved into Jessie Albert Dental Clinic three years ago. Teeth straightening now became an option at the clinic. Elizabeth Graff stepped into the role of practice manager a year and a half ago, and the rest is history.
The clinic accepts all dental insurance plans that patients have, including MaineCare. There is a sliding scale for provided services, and private payments from adults, 21 and older, are part of the financial support. Catholic Charities, which runs 37 programs in the state of Maine, is delighted to provide support to the dental clinic. Judy Katzel, Chief Communications Officer, offers contests for the child patients on how well they care for their teeth and who doesn’t break their braces.
Graff coordinates everything with Catholic Charities, and manages the operations of the practice. “Patient satisfaction is the most important thing. Our mission is to provide excellent dental care for all patients,” said Graff, “and the fact that we are a not-for-profit center makes it an amazing organization.”
The clinic needed a face-lift this past spring. Graff and the staff decided that a visit to the dentist could be anxiety producing, “so we wanted to create a space that was warm, welcoming and promoted a healthful and healing environment,” he said. With her interior design background, she was able to negotiate new carpets at a discount. Her friend Bobbi Gable has a flair with colors, and she helped choose soothing wall paint.
Gable’s husband John is a well-known painter, especially of sailboats and rowing shells. He and Bobbi believed in the center’s mission, and he donated 23 of his prints to hang on the waiting room and office walls. “Art isn’t just for galleries and museums. It can also create a better patient experience,” he said. Bobbi’s paint colors complemented the art and added to the gallery-like feel. She also hung the framed prints with a professional touch.
The donation of Gable’s prints was extraordinary. But they need to be matted and framed. Mike Doucette, owner of Just Framing, provided a generous discount on materials and personally donated his time to frame them. “I’m a former altar boy with a soft spot for all the good work Catholic Charities is doing in our community,” said Doucette, “so I was honored to help bring this project to life.”
New furniture and more dental equipment were also necessary. The former BNAS dental clinic donated many items, and community dental offices contributed as well. The new digital equipment permits a more efficient flow of vital information.
An open house to celebrate the renovations of the clinic was held in June. With such a community commitment to give the clinic a fresh look, many supporters flocked to the building. Now patients and their parents can enjoy a joyful space while waiting for dental care.
Doctors Cory Ernst, Meredith David and Nicholas Armellino serve the dental needs. Dr. Graff is the current orthodontist who plans to retire this winter. Another orthodontist will be hired to take his place. Patients often come from a great distance, including Bucksport, Millinocket, and Bangor, for their orthodontic needs. Dental patients live in a 50-mile radius of Bath. The dental program likes to start one-year-olds on proper teeth care. And these patients can happily stay with their dentists for years to come.
Little did Jessie Albert know that her dream to provide dental care to children in Bath would become such a successful organization. Her vision and Catholic Charities’ support have made this dental and orthodontic clinic an outstanding facility for midcoast Maine.
For more information, call 443-9721.