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January 18, 2001, BurnabyFor nearly fifty years a dental clinic, whose primary role is to support the needs of poor working families, has been very successful at making it possible for children to obtain dental care without their parents giving up paid work to take children to dental appointments, or to take on massive debts in order to maintain their childrens dental hygiene.

By the end of today the fate of this program will be decided by the Board of the Simon Fraser Health Region and the Minister of Health.

The dental program represents a clash in mandates between two provincial ministries and a regional health unit, where the bureaucrats, like Mark Pelletier who has refused comment so far, stating that the topic is too controversial seem more interested in securing their power base than in providing services to the needy.

“While the government is announcing all kinds of programs to protect our children and parents who are in serious need, it doesnt make sense that they would allow bureaucrats at the Simon Fraser Health Unit to simply dismantle a clinic that has proven its value over the years, said Terry Allen, President of CUPE Local 379 Burnaby Schools, the district where the program is based.

The Burnaby School Board has made it clear to workers at the dental clinic that given its mandate to fund only class room programing it can no longer pay the $270,000 necessary to maintain the programalthough the school district has agreed to continue providing the space if another body provides the funds for the program.

For his part, Mark Pelletier, representing the Simon Fraser Health Unit, has refused to recommend guaranteeing the funds needed to maintain the program in its present school-based situation.

Theyve told us that the program will end in late March, says Leslie Cook, a dental assistant, who has been with the program for many years. Leslie, her co-workers, parents and friends of the program have been working hard to demonstrate just how important the program is.

Leslie adds, Weve tried show and tell. Parents have set their pride aside to demonstrate just how much this program means in their lives. But its like no one is listeninglike we dont have charts and figureswe just have the proof in the children who have been treated by this program.

Burnaby MLA Pietro Calendino has been trying to enlist the help of his provincial colleagues to talk some sense into the bureaucrats at the Simon Fraser Health Unit.

According to Leslie, Terry Allen, the parents and dentists who work at the clinic, the last chance resides with Corky Evans, the Minister of Health, as well as David Levi and the Board of the Simon Fraser Health Region.

Were expecting the Simon Fraser Health Board to decide on this question sometime today, said Allen.


Information: Contact Terry Allen at 268-0207 (pager) to arrange interviews with clinic workers or parents. The clinic currently operates Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.