By Kayla Sosa
As a dental hygienist, Blanca Elizabeth Duque-Rico knows the dentist office inside and out, including the advantages and disadvantages certain people face when trying to access dental care, and just health care in general. After seeing this, she and her husband Jorge Ivan Duque decided to take their shot at opening their own clinic, with Duque-Rico’s goal to be a dentist in sight.
“I was working for a community clinic for five years and then I switched up to a private practice,” she said. “I liked working for the community. The only thing I did not like about it was the fact that you treated these patients like cattle; bring ‘em in, take ‘em out, bring ‘em in, take ‘em out.”
“There was no relationship between you and the patient.”
On the contrary, private practices are focused on money. In her heart, Duque-Rico wanted a different relationship with her patients, that was more personal and ultimately, more helpful.
“I like what I do, but I want a little bit more,” she said. So, she asked her husband what he thought and he said, “Why not?”
The couple are now on the road to opening their own clinic, with a building and a dental supplier already set. Through the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab through the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, they have been able to brainstorm and come up with new ideas for what they want to do and what they need to get started.
Duque-Rico wants to help those that may be underserved, or can’t make it to the dentist office for some reason.
“There’s always a high anxiety group of people that hate coming to the dentist,” she said. “It’s not a good thing that you don’t want to come to the dentist. People disregard their mouth a lot, and they forget that their mouth is part of a whole system.
Duque-Rico said she started to look into veterans in the health community and found that they’re “almost forgotten.”
Some VA benefits may cover dental insurance, but a lot of times veterans find themselves on a waiting list, or having to drive long distances to get to the clinic that’s covered by their benefits. And not every dental practice accepts VA benefits.
Duque-Rico said there would still be general practice, but what sets her clinic apart from the rest is the unique way she wants to reach her patients. One of the ideas she and her husband have is to run a mobile dental clinic, or facilitate house calls for those with anxiety or physical ailments that prevent them from making it to the clinic. And she wants to focus on patients that are in the “weird limbo” of not being able to get government assistance, but can’t afford standard health or dental insurance.
“We wanted to focus a little bit more on those types of people, obviously veterans and disabled people.”
Duque-Rico said many people put off going to the dentist, and don’t realize that dental care realty is a necessity.
“A lot of people think dental (care) is a privilege, not a necessity,” she said. “Dental should be looked at as just as important as medical. Everything goes through your mouth, it’s your gateway to everything. So why wouldn’t you think, yes, this is a necessity, not a cosmetic treatment.”
Throughout the business development process, Duque said even though there are stumbling blocks along the way, his military experience has pushed him to keep going and solve each problem head-on.
“We are still working the problem so we can find a way that everyone wins without heavy loss to quality of patient care, provider compensation, and loss of profit to the company,” he explained. “I believe there is a solution but people haven’t found it because, once a point of friction is discovered, people turn away from that path. We are still in the beginning stages but we are determined to provide a solution to the veterans and people who are in ‘the gap’ … people who have an income that walks the line, too much income for government assistance and not enough to pay for private dental insurance.”
“I truly believe that my dedication to mission accomplishment is what drives us to keep going even when we doubt ourselves.”
Stay on the lookout for a new community clinic near you, with a goal to help veterans and the underserved.