The University will permanently close its Dental Service and Pharmacy on Dec. 31 due to financial strains.
Harvard University Health Services spokesperson Michael Perry wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday that the decision is “in no way a reflection of the quality of services delivered or the way these departments are run.” Instead, years-long financial trends spurred the closures.
“Both the Dental Service and Pharmacy have been facing significant financial pressures over the past several years due to forces outside of their control,” Perry wrote. “The Dental Service has struggled to break even, with mixed results.”
“For the Pharmacy, the economics of the pharmacy business have changed over the past several years, making it very difficult for smaller pharmacies to break even or be profitable, and the Pharmacy has not been immune to these changes,” he wrote.
The closure of the Dental Service was first announced in a letter dated Sept. 15 penned by HUHS Chief of Dental Services L. Michele Mardis and HUHS Director Giang T. Nguyen. It was sent to patients by mail and posted on the HUHS website.
“We speak for the entire staff in thanking you for all your patronage over the years, both past and present,” Mardis and Nguyen wrote. “Please know that your dental health, moving forward, is of the utmost importance to us.”
The letter states that the Dental Service will provide patients free copies of their dental records upon request, complete pre-paid or currently underway care, and offer consultations for referrals to in-network dental providers through the end of the year.
The University had not previously announced the Pharmacy closure.
Benjamin M. Costa, a dentist at the Service, said news of the clinic’s closure was a “shock” to him and his wife, who have one child and are expecting another.
“With COVID, it just makes it so challenging to potentially travel to other places and make big decisions for your family. It’s just extra challenging,” he said. “I don’t know exactly where I’m going to go yet.”
Costa said he thinks the closing of the Harvard clinic will have the biggest impact on underprivileged students who would not otherwise have access to dental services.
“Where are they going to go for dental care?” he said. “What’s going to happen to the clinic? We would like to know for our patients. And we don’t know.”
Some patients expressed their concerns about the impending loss of services and uncertainty over finding new healthcare providers.
Mary H. Askew ’77 — who worked at Harvard through 2007 – wrote in an email that the Dental Service closing is “quite distressing.”
“I have used the dental service since I began Harvard employment in 1989,” she wrote. “I trust them and I will greatly miss their care.”
“Losing continuity of care when I am now 65 and having to start all over with another dental office during a pandemic is a major inconvenience but more importantly means I have lost continuity of care that took decades to establish,” she added.
Adonica Y. Lui, an alumna of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email that she has also relied on Harvard’s dental services for decades.
“The wonderful dentists, hygienists, and staff there have taken great care of me. The trust and rapport build up over the years cannot easily be replaced,” she wrote. “I don't know yet what I'm going to do now that the clinic will be closed for good in December. I cannot make any appointments to see either my dentist or hygienist now.”
Costa said support from HUHS ahead of the closure, including a severance package for both providers and ancillary staff, has been “extremely generous.” Still, he said he is “sad to see it go.”
“It was such an opportunity to work at Harvard and it was such a wonderful clinic,” he said. “I certainly will personally miss all of my patients deeply, and the University and the community that I served in.”
“It was just such a wonderful thing,” he said.
—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.