Deana Absher Billings has made a career out of addressing unmet dental needs and in doing so has helped Wilkes County become a leader in this area of health care.
In part for her 21 years as director of the Wilkes Public Health Dental Clinic, Billings received a “Special Recognition Award” on May 19 at the 2022 NC Dental Society Annual Session in Myrtle Beach, SC.
An award document said the Wilkes Public Health Dental Clinic has become a “beacon for public health dental clinics in North Carolina.” He credited Billings for working tirelessly to help start the clinic and said peers from across the state travel to Wilkes to learn from her.
The document says Billings served as the primary instructor for Wilkes Community College’s dental assisting program for 13 years after co-founding the program in 1986. She served as president of the dental health chapter of the NC Public Health Association for several years. and president of NC Dental Assistants. Association.
After receiving the award, Billings said she was proud of what the dental clinic has accomplished at Wilkes, especially the many children and adults it has provided dental care who otherwise would not have received it.
She recognized Cindy Ashley, dental clinic office manager, and Dawn Jolly, mobile dental clinic program manager, and said they had been by her side through all the ups and downs to keep the clinic running. clinical.
Retiring in SeptemberBillings is retiring in September. She and her husband, David Billings, plan to move to Alleghany County, where they grew up. They have two adult children.
The new Clinic Director is Arden Jolley of Hickory. She has held several positions including appointment coordinator, treatment coordinator, marketing coordinator, dental assistant and office manager. Jolley is currently an office manager at a large dental office.
A statement submitted when Billings was nominated for the award said much of the dental clinic’s success was due to her dental knowledge and hard work. Dr. Keith Bentley, a retired local dentist, and Barbara Gregory, retired after serving as a North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services public health dental hygienist assigned to Wilkes County, nominated her.
Billings said the clinic had 12,000 to 13,000 patients (about 55% children and 45% adults) when fully staffed with four dentists. The position of Dentist One Two is currently vacant. She said it was difficult to attract dentists to rural areas, even if they could get $50,000 in student loans to stay for two years and $100,000 for four years of service.
She said 70-75% of dental clinic patients are covered by Medicaid, 5-7% have private insurance, and 10-20% have no insurance and pay on a sliding scale based on income. The clinic offers a full range of dental services.
Since the dental clinic’s inception, Wilkes has ranked among the best counties in the state for treatment with protective dental sealants and other areas of pediatric dental care.
Dental Task ForceEfforts for the dental clinic began with a meeting of local dental professionals and other health professionals and clergy at First Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro in June 1996. They were invited by Dr. Paul Coggins, DDS, Judy West of Wilkes Community Health Council and Dr. Nelson Granade, pastor of First Baptist.
It was stated at the meeting that nine of Wilkes’ 10 dentists were not accepting Medicaid because it paid so poorly and other issues, only five were accepting new patients, and only four were accepting children. Billings said there are also concerns about a large number of dental emergencies at Wilkes Regional Medical Center.
The next step was the creation of a Dental Health Task Force, consisting of Coggins and West as co-chairs and Billings, Granade, Dr Keith Bentley, Dr Brad Shinaman, Dr Michael Andreski, Dr Harry Baldwin, Barbara Gregory, Lois Chandler-Cousins, Reverend Harry Sellers, Tracie Miller, Frances Fennell, Donnie Bumgarner, Helen Shinaman, David Mielke, Kathy Johnson, Reverend Al Andrews, Reverend David Heil and Denise Brewster.
Billings said Paul Hugger, chaplain at Wilkes Regional Medical Center; Penny Musson, nurse at Wilkes Schools; and Sharon Guenther of Wilkes Schools were also instrumental in establishing the need for a mobile dental clinic.
Efforts by task force members and others culminated in the opening of the Wilkes Public Health Dental Clinic in the former Dr. Dwight Ware Dental Building in downtown Wilkesboro in 2000, with a dentist, a dental assistant and a receptionist. It had incorporated as a nonprofit the previous year, with a 16-member board called the Wilkes Dental Consortium.
Billings said when Health Foundation director Heather Murphy learned the clinic had more than 600 children on a waiting list, she communicated this and the Health Foundation donated space formerly occupied by Sky City. at West Park, North Wilkesboro.
The necessary renovations were funded by the Health Foundation, Duke Endowment and Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Dr. Steve Jackson, chair of the clinic’s facilities committee, coordinated the plans with Alvin Sturdivant, the project’s volunteer superintendent.
The dental clinic opened in West Park with two dentists, additional support staff and six treatment rooms at its current location in March 2001. Billings then left WCC to become clinic manager.
Mobile dental clinicWith funding from the Health Foundation, a mobile dental clinic (in the body of a small bus) was purchased and began serving Wilkes school children in the fall of 2001. Visits to rural medical centers have quickly added.
A third dentist was added in the summer of 2002. This person spoke English and Spanish to better meet the needs of Latino patients. A fourth dentist was quickly added to extend care to adults.
With four dentists, the clinic was expanded to take up more space in West Park in 2004. This allowed for a larger children’s clinic and a separate adult clinic.
With funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation and the Health Foundation, a new mobile dental clinic was purchased to replace the original unit in 2014.
The mobile clinic now visits all Wilkes public schools, Mountain View and Clingman Medical Centers, Wilkes Developmental Daycare, Eckerd Connects facility in Boomer, several private daycares and Wilkes Senior Village.
In 2014, a new mobile dental clinic was added to replace the original mobile clinic with financial support. Additionally, the fixed site received a facelift to improve appearance and meet new regulations.
Portable dental equipment was recently purchased through a Duke Endowment grant. This equipment can be disassembled and installed in any space in a school or facility.
Eighth grade experienceBillings became interested in dental care as a profession following an experience she had in eighth grade at Sparta Elementary School. Principal John Miller then asked Billings and his son, Greg Miller, to assist Dr. Jim Ellis, a public health dentist, when Ellis provided dental care to students at the school for about a month. .
She handed instruments to Ellis and provided suction while he cleaned and pulled teeth, placed fillings and performed other dental work.
She went to Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte after graduating from Alleghany High School in 1979, planning to study dental hygiene but choosing dental assisting instead because of the greater variety of jobs she had to do. she was offering. About eight community colleges statewide then offered dental assisting, all one-year programs.
At CPCC, she was elected Treasurer of the NC Community College Student Government Association, then the first female President of the NC community college SGA. She also worked part-time at a public health clinic in Charlotte around the same time.
After graduating from CPCC with a certificate in dental assisting and an associate’s degree, she returned to Sparta and married David Billings. She started working full time as a dental assistant for Dr Ron Key in Sparta in 1982.
Billings met Dr. Keith Bentley and Dr. JB West, both with dental practices in Wilkes, while attending meetings of a chapter of the NC Dental Assistants Association for Alleghany, Surry and Wilkes counties (which she helped start) and the regional chapter of the NC Dental Society.
She agreed when Bentley and West asked her to start teaching part-time in a dental assistant program at WCC in 1983, while continuing to work full-time for Key. The program lasted two terms, which was equivalent to one semester. Billings joined just before WCC moved to a semester system.
Billings said the WCC program provides people with the training hours they need for certification in dental radiography, while also covering chairside dental assisting, dental hygiene, infection control, sterilization, dental anatomy and some other relevant topics. “There was such a need for it” in Wilkes and other counties in the area, she said.
WCC officials quickly launched, with support from Bentley, West, and other dentists, efforts for a year-long dental assisting program with accreditation by the American Dental Association (ADA). Billings helped achieve this goal and was named the program’s first director when he received preliminary accreditation in 1986.
The ADA required the principal to have a four-year degree, so Billings enrolled at Appalachian State University for a bachelor of science degree in health education. She focused all of her projects at ASU on dentistry. She received a K12 teaching certification with her degree.
The WCC dental assisting program began in August 1986 with 10 students. It added a dental clinic for WCC students in the first year, providing work experience for dental assisting students and addressing a great need for dental care, Billings said. It was staffed by local dentists and charged a nominal fee for services.
She said many WCC dental assisting students wanted to become dental hygienists, so WCC partnered with Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory to establish that at CVCC. Billings served on the advisory board for it.
She said WCC was initially guaranteed two student places in each two-year cohort at CVCC, and CVCC program students who completed WCC’s dental assisting program did not have to repeat certain Classes.