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Washington State Dental Association

DR. PETER LUBISICH IV, WSDA’s 2012 Citizen of the Year

“I would like my legacy to be that of teamwork: of motivating my fellow dentists in the state to protect the quality and excellence in dentistry, to focus on the right objectives, to be men and women who serve our communities because it’s the right thing to do.” Dr. Peter Lubisich IV
  Like so many dentists, WSDA’s 2012 Citizen of the Year, Dr. Peter Lubisich IV, gives back to his community —donating services and time to causes close to his heart in Clark County. But Lubisich is different; he’s a juggernaut, balancing the demands of a thriving pediatric practice and a growing young family that includes wife, Michelle, and their three children Peter V, 6, Jacob, 4, and 1 year-old Brooklynn — while still earmarking time to provide dental care with a number of projects in the county.

While those commitments alone might tire someone out, for Lubisich it’s just the beginning — he also teaches pediatric dentistry at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), serves on the Board of Directors of the Free Clinic of SW Washington (where he is also the Dental Director); chairs Clark County’s Children’s Dental Health Day, serves as the administrator for the Lubisich Foundation at OHSU, and recently helped spearhead an initiative to battle access to care issues in the county called OHI, or Oral Health Initiative. Furthermore, Lubisich runs oral health educational programs for children and young mothers in Clark County. “I don’t know how he does it,” said Melody Scheer, Oral Health Coordinator for the Clark County Health Department, “He gives so much back to the community. In part, because of what he does, we really don’t have a significant access to care issue for children here in the county. He is amazing.”

But wait, there’s more — in his spare time, he and Michelle coach their son’s baseball team (both played ball in college), and on Sunday, he teaches a children’s program in his church. When asked about his brother’s tireless efforts, Dr. Josef Lubisich says, “It’s a remarkable quality – he has an incredible amount of endurance, a never-ending energy supply. It’s just like our dad — they can both keep going at 100 mph, never too tired to do something productive or helpful.”

One need only look at his youth in Portland for clues to his altruism — they’re a driven bunch, the Lubisich kids — six in all, born to a dentist father and stay-at-home mom who instilled a work/philanthropy ethic in the brood. Now all grown, the siblings — an engineer, an audiologist, a baseball agent, a college educator, and two dentists (Josef is also a pediatric dentist) — carry on the legacy. “My parents led by example,” says Lubisich, “They have always given back to people. I remember going to events and watching my dad help others — and my mom is an amazing woman. Not only did she raise six children — basically served us all of her life — she was always helping others in the community as well.” Today, Peter and his wife carry on that tradition with their kids — “Michelle and I are introducing them to giving back much in the same way my parents did — I make sure I’m home every night, and if I do volunteer events, I take them with me — it teaches them by example. We’ve brought them to the national beach cleanup day, they’ve come to the county food bank with us and volunteered, and when we do relay for life, they come along.” 

The road to dentistry
As Peter recalls it, his father never pushed dentistry on his children, saying “He rarely spoke of it at home, other than to talk positively about his practice, his role in the community, and how much he enjoyed his work.” So, while Lubisich wasn’t always sure he’d follow in his father’s footsteps — he preferred to forge his own path — he kept it in his back pocket, knowing that he enjoyed detail work, and working with his hands. At Westmont College — a small, Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, Calif., Lubisich mulled over careers in teaching and history, but took his dental prerequisites “just in case.” Then, following his second year of college, he enrolled in a program at OHSU called the Dental Careers Institute — a summer boot camp for students interested in dentistry. He was hooked – not only because he got to work with his hands, but also because as a college athlete, the teamwork aspect of dentistry appealed to him. The variety of the career was also appealing to a person used to being on the go all the time. “Not only are you doing dentistry,” he explains, “But you’re using your skills in a variety of ways —managing a business, teaching, and volunteering. It’s easy to keep busy.”

It was about that time that Lubisich first started giving back on his own – in a college program called Adopt-a-Grandparent, where students would go to retirement homes and spend some time with residents. He befriended a woman with a common interest — baseball — and their friendship grew. Later, when she passed away, her son called Lubisich to thank him for spending time with her, and told him that their time together had meant a lot to her. The experience helped form his fluency in philanthropy — as he says, “I believe that the earlier you start volunteering, the easier it is to make it a life-long habit.” 

After Westmont, Lubisich attended OHSU Dental School, and later did his pediatric residency at Loma Linda. He settled on pediatrics because, as he puts it, “If teamwork plays an integral role in dentistry, it is even more important in pediatrics — especially if you want to have a practice.” While at Loma Linda, Lubisich volunteered in their “Clinic with a Heart” program, one similar to our Give Kids A Smile Day — the first opportunity he had to give back in dentistry.

A mobile dental home
After finishing his residency and moving back to Vancouver in 2003, he continued to volunteer — bringing oral health education to young mothers, performing a puppet show developed by his father to teach oral health basics to elementary school children, and participating in GKAS events in Portland, among others. But in 2005, the extraordinary kindness of an anonymous donor would open up new volunteering opportunities for Lubisich, by donating the funds necessary to purchase a mobile dental van for the Free Clinic. Per the donor’s wishes, the van was to be used primarily to help children in the county. Peter explains, “The donor’s father had dental pain as a child, and wasn’t able to get it taken care of. Eventually, a dentist took the donor’s father in, fixed his teeth, and gave him a place to live. That resonated with the donor, and he decided to fund the van to ensue that children of Clark County were never in pain needlessly.” Lubisich – the first dentist to volunteer on the van — still works on it at least once a week, serves as the Dental Director of the program,  sits on the Board of Directors for the Clinic, and serves on several additional subcommittees for the facility.  Barb West, the Free Clinic’s director, estimates he has donated more than 450 hours since 2005 — and that’s just on the van. 

Today, in keeping with the donor’s wishes, the van still serves the needs of children first, but the success of the volunteer dental program in Clark County means that most children’s emergent needs are being met, so now they’re able to tackle preventative work and see adults, as well. Lubisich elaborates, “The strength of the program is that it is mobile ­— we go around to the different schools, performing screenings and sealants in a central location. The waiting list for the kids is really less than a month, and that’s generally more an issue of finding a time when the parents can bring the children to the van. If the child is in pain, they can come to my office or we’ll send them down to OHSU so that they can be seen the same day.” For the adults, the loss of dental Medicaid means a six-month wait list for a spot on the van, but Lubisich’s Oral Health Initiative seeks to remedy that issue as well. More on that later. 

Children’s Dental Health Day
At about the same time in 2005, Dr. Munib Derhali, then-president of the Clark County Dental Society, was eager to start a homegrown GKAS event, and turned to Lubisich to make it happen. At that time, Clark County dentists went to OHSU in February to help out at their event. Peter explains, “While he loved helping the kids in Portland, Dr. Derhali felt that we should be doing it ourselves here in Clark County. He came up with the idea, I brought the know-how — I’d done these types of events before when I was down at Loma Linda, so I was a natural fit.” Soon after, Lubisich took the helm of Children’s Dental Health Day, which has helped some 1,600 children since 2007 — seeing, on average, 300 patients during the one-day event. Lubisich and his cadre of volunteers provided more than $100,000 in care in 2011 alone. What makes the program unique is that patients are pre-screened, leaving the day of the event free to perform extractions, root canals, and the full gamut of dental work. Lubisich’s brother, Josef, clarifies saying, “Peter does the screening, no one else. Without him, we’d be like any other GKAS program. He’s the one with boundless energy that makes it happen.” And, unlike other GKAS programs, kids enrolled in Clark County’s Children’s Dental Health Day are offered continuing care at the free clinic. If they have extended needs, they are referred to OHSU for that. If they need cleanings and routine work not performed at the event, they are referred to Clark College, where a cleaning performed by supervised dental hygiene students is just $20. But Lubisich doesn’t just volunteer for the program, he chairs the event, and according to Dr. Eugene Sakai, fellow Citizen of the Year recipient from Clark County, “Peter is the guy who makes it all happen, we’re very fortunate to have him here.”

Oral Health Initiative
Even with the work Lubisich and other volunteer dentists from Clark County are doing on the Dental Van, losses to adult dental Medicaid funding have hit the area hard. Adjacent counties have much higher unemployment, according to Sakai, and their residents often come to Clark County for help. Lubisich and others have started a program to address the needs of the uninsured called OHI, or Oral Health Initiative — patterned after Project Access — to address more routine needs of the uninsured. The program asks dentists in Clark County to give in one of three ways — volunteer at the free clinic once a year, treating patients in the van; see one patient a quarter in their office; or donate $300 to cover the cost of surgery performed on their behalf. Using the same model as Children’s Dental Health Day, OHI patients will be pre-screened, ready to be plugged into cancellations or holes in participating dentist’s schedules. “We ask the dentists to specify the procedures they’re willing or unwilling to perform,” says Lubisich, “And we only ask them to treat one tooth or quadrant, whatever they feel they have the time to do. Again, we’re just asking them to do pain or infection control, or if we find a large cavity that we feel is going to bother the patient in the next six months. We send the dentist the digital radiographs beforehand to look over, and if they’re willing, we send the patient over. All the follow up is done through the free clinic. Some dentists choose to see the patient and continue the treatment, others send the patient back to us and we find another dentist if they have additional needs.” The program started this past May, with an initial sign up of 50 area dentists and is continuing to grow.

While many were involved in bringing the initiative to fruition, Scheer credits Lubisich’s coalition-building skills with getting dentists onboard the fledgling project, saying, “It’s Peter who is able to talk to the dentists and make them aware of the need, and explain how they can become involved in OHI.” For his part, Lubisich sees the initiative as something that could be rolled out throughout the state — and beyond. “If all the dentists in the state agreed to participate in a program like this,” he says “I really believe we could take a significant step forward in addressing the problem of access to care – in the short term and long term. The issue is really the management of the program. It’s not feasible for me to recruit dentists statewide – but I think if we could do it, people would be amazed at the impact we could have.”

The Lubisich Foundation
The same generous donor who made the dental van possible also funded the Lubisich Foundation at OHSU in 2008, which helps kids in need by providing money for services not available at the Free Clinic. Lubisich sites the example of a young patient who had caries and needed orthodontia. As the coordinator, Lubisich went to the orthodontic department at OHSU and convinced them to do full orthodontics at the limited orthodontics’ price. Describing his role at the Foundation as “watchful, making sure the money stretches as far as possible,” he taps into contacts and associates willing to offer services at discounted rates, saying, “I’ve earned the trust of the donor, and he knows that I want to treat as many children as possible with the money. Dentistry is a very giving profession – people want to help. In this young woman’s case, it wasn’t something we could have done at the free clinic – it required a multi-disciplinary approach — whereas the dental school had all the facilities in one place to do what we needed.” The Foundation can also provide funding for root canals and space retainers, typically helping about 20 kids a year with more advanced needs. 

A life of service
Why does he give so much? Lubisich credits Michelle’s encouragement and support, and their faith in God, but he also recognizes the role of an early mentor in his life. Clink Davis, a family friend and fellow parishioner counseled Peter about the two most important decisions in a person’s life — their faith, or moral compass, and whom they marry. Lubisich took his mentor’s advice to heart and it has served him well. God, faith, marriage and family provide a strong rudder for this young dentist. And what is the reward for his service? The kids, he says, don’t often thank him, but he’ll usually get a smile afterward. “For the most part, they’re here because their parents brought them. The parents are very thankful, and have sent notes of appreciation. That’s one of the big differences between my private practice and the free clinic – the appreciation for what I do. My reward comes from knowing that I’m helping these kids and making a difference.” 


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