Dental Students Providing Care Through Columbia-Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership

Columbia dental students join other members of the CUIMC community in treating the unhoused, underinsured, and underserved population of New York City’s West Harlem neighborhood through the Columbia-Harlem Homeless Medical Partnership (CHHMP). The program began in May of 2007 by a group of Columbia University medical students after partnering with the Center for Family and Community Medicine (CFCM). Fifteen years later, our students are still providing excellent care – free of charge – while operating out of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 126th Street and, more recently, on CDM’s new dental van.

Catherine Blincoe, Lauren Willis, Jessica Kim, and Katherine Roman preparing to provide oral hygiene instructions at the CHHMP clinic.

“As a student leader of CHHMP Dental, I have seen the direct effect of the Dental Van on the Northern Manhattan community,” Catherine Blincoe, a third-year dental student and Co-President of CHHMP’s dental branch says. “The Dental Van provides state of the art dental services while combating an issue affecting many patients: accessibility to care.”

All patients are welcome at the CHHMP clinic, regardless of financial status or insurance coverage. At St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, patients can receive oral cancer screenings and referrals for more advanced treatment. On the van, patients can receive a range of dental treatment including prophylaxis, scaling and root planing (SRP), simple restorations, fluoride varnish application, and emergency interventions such as extractions. In addition to dental care, the clinic also provides primary care, occupational therapy, and social work services.

Catherine states, “Not only do patients receive crucial care, but students also receive a valuable insight to the social determinants of health dictating care for people in our city.”

CHHMP is led by Catherine, her Co-President Soomin Park, and Faculty Advisor Dr. Holly Shaw. They invite and welcome all Columbia dental students to become involved, regardless of their year in the DDS curriculum. Third and fourth year students provide oral screening examinations and perform dental treatment. First and second year students assist their clinical counterparts by recording medical histories, setting and cleaning up, and ushering patients between the mobile dental van and the church. This past fall semester, eighty dental students volunteered on the first and third Tuesday of each month to participate at the CHHMP clinic.

During COVID, in-person services were suspended, and dental care transitioned to telehealth consultations. While these online visits were helpful with screenings and referrals, the clinic was very excited to reopen its doors towards the end of 2021. In the last few months of 2022, CHHMP has served over two dozen patients, both in the clinic and on the dental van. Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine is excited to continue providing care to this community through this partnership.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is located at 521 West 126th Street.