Many years ago, in the early stages of Suzanne Hubbard’s late second career as a dental hygienist, a man came into the office with a swollen face.
His cheeks looked like marshmallows. He needed help. But the office turned him down because he had Medicaid. It was the fifth time an office turned him down that day, he told them as he left. It broke her heart.
She decided that when she made the decisions, she wouldn’t turn anyone away. She wanted to open her own clinic for more than a decade just for that reason. Now she’s the owner of Hubbard Family Dental Hygiene clinic, 2918 10th St., and more than 80 percent of her clients are Medicaid patients.
That man with the swollen face changed her life. It inspired her to dream big, and he’s also the reason she will travel to Guatemala in three weeks with her husband, Greg, and her dental assistant, Cindy Harbert, to start a mobile clinic. She has big plans down there, too.
Hubbard, now 53, worked odd jobs for years, at Greeley-Evans School District 6 or cleaning houses, while she raised the couple’s two children, Ashley, now 26, and Josh, now 24. Greg worked for 31 years at UPS. One day, Hubbard’s sister, a hygienist, invited Hubbard to watch. By the end of the day, Hubbard knew she had found her calling.
Never mind she was in her late 30s at the time or that her kids were teenagers and that they still had a house and cars to pay off. She went back to school. She’s now worked as a hygienist for 12 years.
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Just a couple years into her new career, Hubbard mentioned several times that she would like to start her own place. Greg’s mother, Donna, said she would loan them the money, but several places didn’t work out. Donna then got pancreatic cancer and died, and she left Hubbard the money to start her own place, as long as Hubbard gave back 10 percent of the profits to Greeley.
She opened in fall 2015. It was frightening and yet exciting, Greg said. He already was retired and hoped to play golf. Now he helps run the clinic. He even had to go back to school himself in a sense to learn about the intricacies of Medicaid and dental insurance. They also fought to get the word out: Most Medicaid patients don’t realize dental care is covered. Now the clinic has 2,500 patients.
The clinic is unusual in because Hubbard, a hygienist, owns it. She rents out the practice to two dentists, and she loves them both. The business model makes sense, she said, for young dentists who can’t afford the huge overhead of their own place while they’re getting established.
The three will leave Oct. 14 and spend more than a week at the Casa Angelina, an orphanage that serves kids who came from the sex trade industry. They’ve received donations from business partners who also sponsor some of their pro bono work on Greeley’s poorest patients. The Hubbards should be able to get enough equipment for two motorized dental chairs and two portable units and fill the cavities and clean the teeth of the 115 in the orphanage. Then they will serve another 200 who live in a dump, where dental care is “frightening,” as Hubbard puts it.
She and Harbert are looking forward to it. The desperate situation means she and Harbert are allowed to do real dental work, including, unfortunately, extractions and fillings and treating gum disease.
Once they get all their equipment established down there, they hope to go back every six months. They even hope the clinic can stand on its own one day, so they can buy a bus with more mobile units and travel to nearby villages to do even more work.
Donna, Greg’s mother, had the same heart for helping people that Hubbard now demonstrates. She wanted to ensure Hubbard got to fulfill her dream to help others. Her picture keeps watch over the clinic’s front desk and the people who wait for Suzanne’s care both in Greeley and abroad.
— Staff writer Dan England is The Tribune’s Features Editor. His column runs on Tuesday. If you have an idea for a column, call (970) 392-4418 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.
To donate to the Hubbard’s Guatemala trip, send it to Greeley Wesleyan Church and say it’s for the trip. Send it to the church, 3600 22nd St., Greeley, CO 80634.