Founded in Minnesota in 1985, Apple Tree Dental is the brainchild of Dr. Michael J. Helgeson, CEO, and three cofounders, who recognized a critical need among elderly nursing home residents for access to quality preventative dental care and treatment. To address this problem and deliver these essential services, they developed a mobile on-site solution and set the stage for meeting similar needs within other populations.
“Guided by our mission to overcome barriers to oral health, Dr. Helgeson has led this organization for 36 years and significantly broadened our reach and impact by building relationships with community partners and civic leaders,” said Apple Tree Dental CFO Nancy Schumacher. “With the support of local champions and Bremer Bank, we have strengthened our financial viability and made our services available to more people who need them.”
Today, more than 35,000 patients, transcending age, ability, and socioeconomic status, receive Apple Tree Dental services annually. More than 82% of Apple Tree’s patients are on Minnesota Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare. On-site mobile dental care has expanded beyond elderly customers, and the nonprofit currently operates eight Centers for Dental Health - in Coon Rapids, Fairmont, Fergus Falls, Hawley, Little Falls, Madelia, Mounds View, and Rochester. Each clinic is grounded in the unique needs and resources of the local community.
“Since the beginning, Dr. Helgeson’s goal was to make systematic changes in the delivery of oral healthcare, to provide a safety net for underserved populations,” said Schumacher. “It started with the elderly and now encompasses children in Head Start schools, programs for individuals with special needs, and customized dental care management for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.”
The team at Apple Tree Dental has also shared their knowledge and experience with leaders in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Massachusetts, and California, helping them launch mobile on-site dentistry programs to reduce growing care gaps in their states.
In October 2021, Apple Tree Dental took its focus on overcoming barriers to oral health to an even deeper level. In affiliation with New York University Langone Dental Medicine Postdoctoral Residency Programs, Apple Tree Dental’s Center for Dental Health in Fergus Falls is poised to launch Minnesota’s first rural general dentistry residency program, beginning July 2022. The program’s training will prepare graduate dental residents to provide a broad range of services in rural settings, which desperately need dental care options and generally have limited specialty-level referral opportunities. This program builds on the success of Apple Tree Dental’s urban Twin Cities residency program which began in 2016.
As Apple Tree Dental has grown in recent years, CFO Schumacher has been especially grateful for the support and partnership of Bremer. “In late 2018, we were contemplating an expansion of our program in Fergus Falls and had begun exploring options for a new, larger facility,” she said. “We were referred to Thad Olsen at Bremer Bank, who was incredibly helpful in facilitating every aspect of the financing. That prompted us to review our entire banking relationship and move it to Bremer in November 2019, and we are very happy we did.”
She also offered advice for other nonprofit organizations seeking a trusted banking partner. “Look for a bank that understands your organization, is interested in your mission and doesn’t measure your performance against for-profit businesses. And make sure they communicate well!”
That’s music to Thad Olsen’s ears. Through his initial oversight of the tax-exempt bond transactions and subsequent reissuances, line of credit issuance and treasury management services, he made it a priority to understand Apple Tree Dental’s business model and strategy. And he has great appreciation for its complexity.
“They’re not like a private dental practice with insurance and co-pays,” he said. “They rely on philanthropic grants and government support to make the financials work. They offer a unique, much-needed service to communities across Minnesota and have a proven record of business innovation and performance that attracts strong interest and support from local officials.”
With their core values of Access, Compassion and Excellence – and a commitment to innovation and health care leadership – Apple Tree Dental is well-positioned to continue delivering education, prevention, and restorative dental services to vulnerable populations. And Bremer is proud to be a key partner in this important work.