Courtesy of Wellspring Foundation.

The newly established Wellspring Foundation of Southwest Virginia presented its first contribution to the region this week with a grant to Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center (AHCDC) of Abingdon. 

The foundation was created following the recent sale of Johnston Memorial Healthcare Foundation’s minority ownership stake in Johnston Memorial Hospital to Ballad Health. (See background story on the rise of similar hospital conversion foundations around Southwest and Southside.)

Wellspring’s funding of $500,000 for the expansion of AHCDC’s clinic was awarded to the organization in a presentation ceremony in Abingdon. In addition to Wellspring’s support, the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF) donated $100,000 and Jan Hurt of Abingdon provided $50,000. 

AHCDC provides oral healthcare to underserved and uninsured individuals and families in 11 counties throughout Southwest Virginia. Sixty percent of the clinic’s patients reside in Wellspring’s service footprint of Washington, Grayson, Russell and Smyth counties. 

Funding from the Wellspring Foundation will allow AHCDC to acquire much-needed additional equipment and begin construction to expand its existing facility this fall. Once construction is completed in 2023, the clinic will be positioned to bring in additional dental residents and serve more patients throughout the region. 

Sean McMurray, executive director of the Wellspring Foundation of Southwest Virginia, noted that the regional need for the kind of services AHCDC provides is consistently high.

“The ratio of dentists per person in our region is 32 per 100,000 residents,” McMurray said in a statement. “That’s approximately half of the available resources in other areas of the Commonwealth.”

AHCDC is the principal training site for Johnston Memorial Hospital’s Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency program, which provides a 12-month hands-on experience to recent dental school graduates. The program, which is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), accepted its first dental resident in 2020. Residents gain clinical expertise and academic training, while providing dental care to uninsured Southwest Virginians. 

The expansion represents the first phase of increasing access for patients and boosting the services offered by AHCDC. In 2021, AHCDC served 3,645 patients, equating to a savings of nearly $2.5 million. By 2026, the clinic plans to treat 10,000 patients annually, with an estimated cost savings to patients of $6.5 million. 

“We currently have five residents who collectively see approximately 20 patients per day,” Miller said in a statement. “After completion of this first construction phase, we will have seven residents next July and eventually welcome nine residents, enabling us to more than double the number of patients that we can treat. There is a three- to four-month waiting list to be considered a new patient, and a four-month waiting list for new patients to receive services. We maintain a waiting list of more than 200 patients at any time, and we receive 50 calls per day for assistance. Expansion of the dental center is paramount to meet the demand for quality and affordable dental care in the communities we serve, and this expansion will continue to ensure that patients of Southwest Virginia have access to the best dental care in the Commonwealth.”

For more information about AHCDC, please visit For more information about Wellspring Foundation of Southwest Virginia, please visit

Left to right: Bill Hayter, chair, Wellspring Foundation Board of Directors; Scott Miller, D.D.S, director, Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center; Sean McMurray, executive director, Wellspring Foundation of Southwest Virginia. Courtesy of Wellspring. Photo Credit : Earl Neikirk/Neikirk Image