Governor makes stop at local free clinic

Gov. Tony Evers listens to Mary Beth Egert, the dental program coordinator at Open Arms Free Clinic in Elkhorn late last week. He was on tour promoting funding in his biennial budget that will allow more state residents to access dental care at safety net clinics. (Heather Ruenz photo)

He was promoting increased funding for dental services

By Heather Ruenz

Staff Writer

Late last week, Gov. Tony Evers visited two free medical clinics that also provide dental services to promote additional funding in his biennial budget to support the state’s oral health program.

The Aug. 8 visits included a stop at Open Arms Free Clinic in Elkhorn, where Evers toured the facility and spoke with staff and members of the clinic’s board. Leading Evers on the tour was the Rev. Dan Sanders, Open Arms’ founder.

“We’re as beautiful on the inside as we are on the outside,” Sanders said to Evers, who had commented on the beauty of the area shortly after entering the clinic.

Sanders gave a brief history of how the clinic began and how it works.

Open Arms Free Clinic offers free medical, dental and vision care to people who live or work in Walworth County and meet the required low income limits.

The additional funding will allow more Wisconsin residents to access dental care with the governor’s budget for the Oral Health Program, including increases in the amount available to safety net clinics by $425,000 in 2019-2020 and $850,000 the followin year.

In addition to the increased funding, the budget also includes $1 million in grants for the Wisconsin Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

Mary Beth Egert, the dental program coordinator at Open Arms, also talked with the governor.

“Our goal is to have health, not treat disease,” Egert said.

Evers said a dental clinic elsewhere told him they mostly did extractions because, unfortunately, the preventive care didn’t happen.

Egert told Evers the clinic is limited to three or four dentists, all who volunteer their time.

“We could do so much more if we had more dentists,” Egert said. “Even if they can give a half a day, it would help so much.”

Egert said Open Arms also hopes to partner with Marquette Dental School, which could benefit the clinic as well as the college.

Evers said he was interested in how Open Arms reaches people.

Sanders said even in Walworth County, which is not poor, there are areas where there is a need and access to care is limited.

“It’s definitely a hidden poverty,” Sanders said.

“We always want to believe everything is right with the world, but that’s certainly not always the case,” Evers said.

To learn more about the Oral Health Program, visit

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