The Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic has been an institution on North Lime Street in the city of Lancaster for over 80 years – since local orthodontist Dr Herbert Cooper assembled a multidisciplinary team of specialists in 1938 to treat children with cleft palate and other craniofacial conditions.
While the clinic’s name and mission have remained the same and its team approach has become a global standard of care in the field, the scope of its services has expanded exponentially – as has its clientele.
Although there are now some 200 similar clinics across the United States, the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic is considered the first such facility in the world, says Dr. Elizabeth Prada, a pediatric dentist who began volunteering at the clinic in 2013, joined its staff in 2016 and now serves as Executive Director.
“We’ve become a referral center in our area for these specialty services,” says Prada, noting that the clinic sees 2,500 craniofacial patients each year in a service area that spans 45 Pennsylvania counties and 10 states.
Most of these craniofacial conditions involve cleft lip or palate, but a myriad of other conditions, including genetic syndromes, facial trauma, disease, and even a form of juvenile arthritis, can affect facial growth and development. requiring treatment by various specialists.
The clinic has a team of health specialists in 13 fields, including dentistry, plastic surgery, orthodontics, audiology, speech therapy, social work, pediatric medicine, oral surgery and ear specialists , nose and throat. Two ENT surgeons and an oral surgeon, along with three plastic surgeons from Penn State Hershey Medical Center, volunteer their time at the clinic.
Coordinating care means patients can see all of their specialists in one place on the same day, says Prada.
The clinic is networked with most private insurance and all local Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plans, but will treat any craniofacial or pediatric dental patient regardless of ability to pay. Although any child born with a craniofacial condition in Pennsylvania is eligible for medical assistance, the insurance payment does not fully cover the cost of care.
Prada recently oversaw a $4 million capital campaign that modernized the clinic’s headquarters at 223 N. Lime St., adding more treatment spaces and making it accessible to the ADA.
Her mission now is to raise awareness of what she calls the clinic’s “cool business model,” in which the nonprofit’s pediatric dentistry, general dentistry, and audiology specialists offer their services to the greater community. These services represent an additional 2,500 patients each year, for a total patient population of 5,000.
“The goal was to become more sustainable by taking care of our community and allowing that to seep in. It’s a win-win,” says Prada. “We can provide more care to people, but at the same time, the proceeds of our care go to support our primary mission. … You get your own health care and help others who are less fortunate than you.
The idea of community services has been around since at least the 1980s, Prada says, when the clinic moved to its current site from its original location in Cooper’s home at 24 N. Lime St.
Now that the fundraising campaign is over, Prada looks forward to the next strategic planning session. While the clinic will continue to focus on the growth and sustainability of clinical care, it also hopes to improve research into what kind of care produces the best results.
The clinic is currently participating in two National Institutes of Health funded studies – one on palate surgery and speech outcomes and the other a project that pools research data from cleft centers in the United States and in Canada.
Like many nonprofit leaders, Prada says she spends more time than she would like on finances.
“One thing that’s always been part of my role as a supplier and as a general manager, which I’m always aware of and keeps me up at night, is how dependent we are on community support,” she says. “Even though we provide a lot of incredible care, Medicaid and public insurance reimbursement for our craniofacial patients will never pay all of our bills, it will never make us whole.”
For this, the clinic depends on grants and generosity from foundations, individuals, events like the extraordinary gift and members of the community who use its services.
“We are very grateful to everyone who supports us,” says Prada. “The more we are able to collect, the more time it frees up for us to focus on direct patient care.”
For more information, visit clivclinic.org.