Dental Center a Rare Gem in Nation’s Health Care System
by Grace Herndon
Aug 07, 2008 | 1244 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print

So, we’ve all seen the movie Sicko. It’s practically a national pastime these days to bad-mouth this country’s unwieldy medical system, the pharmaceutical industry, the staggering cost of drugs, and the corporate health insurance industry. So, it’s somewhat surprising that the new dental care suite, which will open soon at the Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood, may be a rare circumstance in the nation’s health care system which works well and is in sync with community needs.

Two state grants – $100,000 for equipment and construction of the new suite and a second $125,000 grant to help cover first year operations – have made it possible to offer this new affordable dental care. UMC Executive Director Michelle Haynes says she’s seeking additional grants to help fund operations for a second year.

To a large extent, the center’s unique designation as a Federally Qualified Health Center is making this new and affordable regional dental care a reality. In 1974, Norwood’s community health care clinic gained the federal designation and is one of just 14 rural centers in Colorado to be so named. Norwood, along with Glenwood Springs and Dove Creek are the only such federally qualified rural medical facilities in western Colorado.

Both Director Haynes and UMC Operations Director Steve Siegel point out that it’s very difficult to earn this designation today. Both the Telluride Medical Center and The Basin Clinic in Naturita have vital rural health system designations. But these are not as all encompassing as Norwood’s federally qualified status. The federal qualification has made it possible for the center at Norwood to offer an increasing number of affordable health care programs for regional residents.

In addition to helping the UMC gain some $225,000 in state grant funds for the new regional affordable dental care suite, the federal qualification allow the UMC to offer staff applicants reductions on the remainder of their often large student loan debts. Haynes and Siegel say such federally-approved student loan reductions are a major benefit for rural health centers and should prove important incentives in hiring a part-time dentist, dental assistant hygienist and receptionist for the new dental unit.

While it’s hard to imagine making a visit to the dentist a happy occasion, Norwood’s new dental suite does its best to be inviting. Located in the sun-swept southeast back corner of the center itself, the suite features two sleek, contoured, pale gray-blue dental chairs. These are separated by a thick wall-like panel that neatly houses a two-way X-ray setup serving either chair. The dental suite also includes individual spaces for a reception area, lab work and miscellaneous related activities.

“Affordable” is the key word for this new regional dental care service. An earlier survey by the Telluride Foundation identified affordable dental care as an urgent, unmet regional need.

Thanks to grants from state and private agencies as well, fees for this new dental care will be based on a sliding scale, and the patient’s income and ability to pay. Many families without dental insurance simply can’t afford private dental care. In connection with this need, the Telluride Institute has initiated the San Juan Kids Cavity Prevention Program, which delivers preventive treatments and dental health education in school to elementary school kids in San Miguel, Ouray and West Montrose counties. The Telluride Institute’s Preventive Care Program Administrator Gary Steinback says, “Our goal is to create a dental home for every child and see that they get the preventive care they need, regardless of their ability to pay.”

Clearly, the new affordable dental service at the UMC in Norwood is a perfect partner to the Telluride Foundation’s kids’ dental program. The UMC is a partner in this effort, acting as the navigator for the kids’ program, coordinating enrollment, qualifications, hygienist services, insurance billing, data collection, and transportation. Multiple partnerships are essential to the success of such low-cost rural health care efforts. Grants and other funds supporting these affordable services come from a whole array of both private and government agencies and foundations.

For example, the regional medical shuttle service, which provides transportation to medical facilities outside the San Miguel area, is a partnership made up of the UMC in Norwood, The Children’s Health Fund, San Miguel County Commissioners, Montrose County Senior Citizens Transportation Program, Montrose, the Telluride Foundation, and the Colorado Health Foundation in Denver. Similar partnerships have made the new affordable dental care suite possible in Norwood.

At the center, staff members are currently interviewing applicants to staff the new dental care suite, planned to open later this month. The center’s Aug. 13 open house will feature the public’s first view of the new dental unit.

Will somebody please call Roger Moore, director of the movie Sicko. With all the bad news about the nation’s health care system, Moore needs to know what’s happening right here in the San Miguel River Basin.
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