Donor Profile: Major gift opens endowment for dental patient fund5 min read
Ann Arbor, Mich., Dec. 14, 2023 – A new School of Dentistry endowment fund that will support the dental care of underserved patients has been established with a major gift from a Michigan dentist.
Supporting the Victors Care Dental Patient Fund is a natural fit for Dr. Brian Rathke, who has long worked to make dental care accessible for a broad socioeconomic spectrum of patients at his two dental practice offices in Bellaire and Elk Rapids.
That part of Michigan, not far from Traverse City, is often identified as an affluent part of the state, much like Ann Arbor, Rathke said. But he knows from his daily experience that there are many people in his region – and all around the state – who have trouble affording dental care. Even if low-cost dental care or a federally supported clinic exists in a certain region, low-income patients may lack the resources to travel there.
“I love the profession. I feel it is an honor to serve people as a dentist,” Rathke said. “I have made it a mission throughout my career to give something away every single day. There is a lot of need up here that goes unanswered and I try through my offices to give something away every single day to the community, including today, including every day.”
Expanding that philosophy to reach more people is the impetus for Rathke’s gift of $100,000 to serve as the foundation for the patient fund at the School of Dentistry. As the fund grows, the interest it generates can eventually be used to help patients pay for their dental care. Patients already receive reduced-cost dental care performed by dental students, but some still can’t afford to pay for the more extensive treatments they need. The fund will allow the school to assist selected patients to continue their care. That’s a win for the patient, for the dental school and for the students who gain more experience with more patients, Rathke notes, calling it “a win-win-win patient fund.”
The dental school’s social worker, Karen Burnett, said she regularly sees a diverse group of patients with various needs and limitations, particularly in the area of health insurance: They may have no insurance, limited coverage or commercial insurance that has reached its maximum benefit. She also addresses patients’ “Social Determinants of Health,” which include transportation, nutrition and food, housing, access to care and mental health needs. “The Victors Care Dental Patient Fund will have a tremendous impact on patient care and student education,” Burnett said. “I look forward to being able to address some of these needs, in the school’s tradition of delivering excellent patient and family-centered care and improving our patients’ overall health.”
Rathke’s gift came out of discussion with Carrie Towns, the school’s Chief Development Officer, when looking for an area of highest need to support. The topic of underserved patients meshed with Rathke’s interests, leading to his major gift.
“If you’re a person who has goodwill toward others and is in a position to help, there is a huge need in Ann Arbor and everywhere,” Rathke said. “Most dentists I know are incredibly generous people. They contribute to their patients and to their communities through countless altruistic acts of kindness. But as much as we give, we can always give a little bit more to those in need. If somehow we could wave a magic wand and each of us could help even in some small way, it just makes the world a better place.”
Rathke and his wife Lisa, who manages the family dental offices, have two daughters who are students at the dental school. Maggie graduates next May and Katie will follow in 2025. Rathke recently needed to update the lettering that lists the dentists on the front door of his practice, so he went ahead and added the names of Maggie and Katie because they plan to join the practice after they graduate. They will become the family’s fourth generation of dentists. Rathke’s step-father Henry VanLooy Jr. and his father Henry Sr. were dentists, as is Rathke’s brother Todd, who practices in Bay City.
When Rathke graduated from the Detroit Mercy dental school in 1998, he returned to his hometown of Bellaire as an associate of his step-father, then purchased the practice in 2000. He started the second practice in Elk Rapids in 2010. He is active in professional dentistry organizations, serving as president and editor for the Resort District Dental Society for more than 20 years. He’s been a local delegate to the Michigan Dental Association for many years and served on the MDA’s political action committee.
That involvement in the profession, paired with knowing that his daughters will be part of the future of dentistry, added to his incentive to give back to the profession through U-M’s comprehensive dental school. Ultimately, he says, it’s about the mission of public health.
“When you have an endowment like this, the hope is that other people will jump on the bandwagon and also contribute to a good cause,” Rathke said. “As the endowment grows, it might open the door to some grants and other funding sources to assist the underserved. That is one of our hopes – that it will grow in time and really help a lot of people.”
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare education, research, patient care and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu. Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (734) 615-1971.