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Thursday April 24, 2014
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Bonita Neighbors



appointment. Neighbors had offered to cover cab fare, but finally the patient found a friend to drive her.

Voices in distress aren't uncommon at the small, low-slung brick building on North Ashley. "Sometimes people cry on the phone," says Neighbors, when they can't afford even the clinic's modest fees (a basic cleaning costs $49). Unlike most private dentists, the center accepts Medicaid--but, Neighbors points out, many of the "working poor" don't qualify for the federal program.

Because so many patients have limited incomes, "I can't always do what I want because of the financial barrier," Neighbors, says, frustrated. But, adds the fifty-seven-year-old dentist, "I love being down and dirty in the trenches!" It's a welcome change from her twenty-three years at the Michigan Department of Corrections, where she supervised dental care at twenty-three prisons. "The [administrative] job got larger and larger," she recalls. "I didn't have time to see patients."

Neighbors moves fast and frequently flashes a wide, sunny smile. She's eloquent, but prefers action to talk--the "one thing I don't have patience for," she says, is "laziness." She treats patients about half of the day, and spends the rest of her time supervising the busy clinic, chasing outside support, and engaging with others in the county alarmed by a growing population that needs but can't afford care.

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