By Ben Sherman, Fort SillMarch 14, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- A large crowd of doctors, staff and dignitaries braved the morning chill to observe the rededication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated Cowan Dental Clinic March 6.
Many of those gathered eagerly anticipated occupying their new workplace after an 18-month, $8 million renovation.
"It doesn't get any better than this. I never had the pleasure of working in one this nice," said Col. Michael Roberts, Fort Sill Dental Activity commander, as he addressed the crowd.
Roberts went on to thank the staff for their patience during the renovation.
"From the initial planning several years ago to the transfer in and out of the mobile home on the other side of post, you've been scattered out and working in transient facilities in various places for several years. And, it has culminated in this ceremony, just countless hours of work and for that I am greatly appreciative," he said.
Roberts noted that the reopening of Cowan Dental Clinic was one of several special events in March, along with 102nd anniversary of the Army Dental Corps on March 3, and March being Dental Assistants Appreciation Month.
Joe Gallagher, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill deputy to the commanding general, spoke to the crowd about how Cowan Dental Clinic wasn't the most well known building on post, but to him personally it had always been a special part of Fort Sill because it opened in 1981, shortly before he arrived for the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course.
"What an amazing facility. I've been in dental clinics all over the Army to have all sorts of work done, from trailers in Baghdad to first-class facilities down at Fort Hood [Texas] and in Korea. But I have to tell you that the remodeling that's been done here takes it to a whole new level. I think you will be pleased, very surprised when you go through," Gallagher said.
Gallagher joined Roberts in cutting the ribbon that marked the reopening of the clinic. Then guests went inside to take part in interactive displays that allowed them to learn more about dentistry while they toured the facility.
Not only is Cowan the largest dental clinic on post, but also home to the Comanche one-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency program, which trains eight new general dentists each year.
Maj. Nathan Parrish, the officer in charge of Cowan clinic, also serves as deputy director of the only medical residency at Fort Sill. He explained how the clinic serves both the residency program and meets the dental needs of Soldiers.
"This whole clinic was designed in two parts. One part, about 35 percent of the clinic is for the AEGD residency. We have a whole wing just for the residency now. The other 63 percent of the clinic is actually for our brigades that we service here," Parrish said.
He went on to talk about some of the improvements that were made to the clinic, such as increasing the number of dental chairs from 26 to 35, without increasing the square footage of the building. Each of the 35 dental chairs is state-of-the-art, even allowing preset heights for two different providers to be programmed in each chair.
"The engineers from St. Louis designed this clinic to be more ergonomically friendly and utilized every ounce of space for patient care," Parrish said. "Everything from new cabinets to our dental chairs to the flow of the whole clinic was designed with ergonomics in mind, not only to deliver better care to the patients, all the way down to our dental assistants. It allows them to have a more friendly environment during procedures, without excessive bending that could hurt their backs over time."
Cowan has a staff of 61, including 20 dental providers, eight expanded function dental assistants who can do cleaning and fillings, two dental hygienists and nearly 40 dental assistants.
"This dental clinic has latest that dentistry can provide. Anywhere from instruments to help clean patients teeth, all the way to a $110,000 machine that actually takes a digital impression of a tooth and can mill out and deliver a crown within 30 minutes. So we do have the latest and greatest," Parrish said. "We actually see about 20,000 patients per year and perform 50,000 procedures per year at this clinic."
Staff members were impressed as they toured the newly renovated facilities. Dr. Alan Palmer, a general dentist who came to Fort Sill last December after retiring from 30 years of active duty in the Air Force, said that Cowan was the most advanced facility he had ever seen. He was especially impressed with the new digital X-ray displays, which are all connected to a central computer hub.
"With the digital X-rays you can pull the images up from the server. We can look at it here on the dentist's monitor, the dental assistant's monitor or even at a different clinic. We can even send images to a dentist on another post to consult on a difficult case," Palmer said.
Palmer showed his wife, Esther, a former dental assistant, all of the cutting-edge innovations in the new dental rooms. She was especially impressed with the new examination lights over the dental chairs.
"In the old days the fillings would set up too quickly under the heat of the exam lights," said Esther. "But these new lights have different settings, so you can put it on a different color that doesn't create as much heat. That gives the dentists more time to work on the tooth."
Parrish said he is very proud of the renovations at Cowan.
"We have everything dentistry can provide within this clinic, and that is one of the reasons why we are able to provide all the specialty care to Fort Sill. When another clinic has a need greater than what they can meet, they send it to Cowan clinic for specialty care. It's like the highest echelon of care here at Fort Sill," Parrish said.
The clinic is named for Brig. Gen. Egbert Wesley Van Delden Cowan, a 35-year Army veteran who served in England, North Africa and Italy during World War II, where he was awarded the Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster. He retired in 1954 as commandant of the Army Dental School and director of dental activities, Walter Reed Medical Center.