Small Change Creates a Big Impact

Michael O'Hara
Michael O'Hara, a graduate of the Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree program from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
July 19, 2021

It’s not uncommon for patients with special needs, complex medical conditions, and physical or cognitive differences, to encounter challenges when seeking dental care. The Special Patient Care (SPC) clinic at the UCLA School of Dentistry – and its specialists trained in treating this vulnerable population – serve as a major safety net for special needs patients and their caretakers. For many of these patients, UCLA is the only option they have and those who live far away are willing to drive hundreds of miles to be seen.

Thanks to long-time UCLA School of Dentistry supporters Peter Shapiro and the Shapiro Family, a part-time social work supervisor was added to the clinical team to further enhance the patient experience. The new staff member, Ms. Michael O’Hara, was hired to help patients through the course of their treatment, all the way from conducting intake interviews to providing post-surgery resources.

A graduate of the Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree program from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Michael is a welcome addition for SPC clinic director, Dr. Eric Sung, professor and chair of special patient care, and the existing clinic team who collectively provide comprehensive care for more than 3,000 patients a year. The Shapiros also gave a major gift to establish the UCPLA Endowed Chair in Special Patient Care in 2015, which is held by Dr. Sung.

Michael was hired as part of a new, three-year special patient care fellowship at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, that is designed to create cross-campus collaboration for student fellows seeking to obtain field experience while assisting some of Southern California’s most underserved patients. She is responsible for a range of clinical and care management duties, including triaging patient needs, assisting with resource referrals, and coordinating with the operating room at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

“Our hope in creating a social work field placement in Special Patient Care is to bring multidisciplinary and integrated care to this unique clinic, and work in small and large ways to address equity and the social determinants of health,” said Michael.

Beginning Fall 2021, Michael will also supervise two second-year MSW students in completing field education study at the Special Patient Care Clinic and the Center for Cerebral Palsy at UCLA. This new support allows Dr. Sung and his team to focus more on the hands-on work that is required to fully treat these patients, instead of working on the more administrative tasks that can monopolize their workdays.

“I am grateful to the Shapiros for their continued efforts to expand access to care for the special patient care population,” Dr. Sung said. “Over the years, their gifts have made a tremendous impact on the quality of care we can provide to a patient population who desperately needs the resources.”


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