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Partnership Expands Dental Care to Uninsured and Underinsured in Clay County

By Mike Sherry, for the KHI News Service, March 23, 2012

Two public health agencies are collaborating to expand dental services for needy children and adults in Clay County.

Starting April 2, Kansas City-based Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center will provide dental care at the Clay County Public Health Center in Liberty. The partnership means that for the first time since it began offering dental services in 1955, the Clay County Public Health Center will serve adults.

In 2011, the Clay County center performed more than 2,700 procedures on approximately 430 children between the ages of 5 and 18. The partnership with Samuel Rodgers is expected to initially triple the number of dental patients seen at the Clay County facility, with additional growth possible in the future.

“This just seemed like a good marriage, a good partnership,” said Pam Wittmeyer, section chief of chronic disease management for the Clay County Public Health Center.

The joint effort builds on a relationship forged two years ago when Samuel Rodgers started providing primary care to patients at the Clay County center. Under that arrangement, and under the dental agreement as well, Samuel Rodgers sees patients and Clay County offers rent-free space and covers the overhead.

The Clay County Public Health Center is also contributing about $150,000 in direct spending and existing equipment to initiate the dental program, according to Clay County Public Health Director Gary Zaborac.

The program is projected to cost about $300,000 a year, according to Hilda Fuentes, Samuel Rodgers’ chief executive officer. Initial staffing for the program will include a dentist, dental assistant and an administrative clerk.

Expanding dental care to uninsured and underinsured adults has been a priority for the county all the way back to a community needs assessment conducted in 2000, said Jodee Fredrick, director of the division of administration for the Clay County center.

The new partnership comes amid recent national attention to problems associated with the lack of dental care for low-income patients.

On Feb. 28, the Pew Center on the States issued a report estimating that preventable dental conditions were the primary diagnosis in more than 830,000 emergency room visits nationwide in 2009 – a 16 percent increase from 2006. The report cited previous research concluding that decay-related visits to emergency rooms across the country in 2006 cost nearly $110 million.

Data was unavailable from several states, including Missouri, according to the report. But in Kansas, according to the Pew Center, hospitals reported 17,500 visits to emergency facilities due to dental-related problems in 2010.

The report cited statistics from the Kansas City Health Department’s 2010 Community Health Assessment, which said emergency room charges for dental-related visits to local hospitals totaled about $6.9 million between 2001 and 2006.

The report also said that Missouri was one of just seven states without a school-based program to treat molars of high-risk students to prevent cavities. (The Clay County Public Health Center sends dental hygienists into elementary schools to provide screenings and education; the program screened approximately 18,500 students last year.)

A day after the Pew Center released its report, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging issued its own findings in “Dental Crisis in America: The Need to Expand Access.” It cited 2008 findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation that said low-income adults are almost twice as likely as higher income adults to have gone without a dental check up in the previous year.

Fuentes said safety-net providers in the Kansas City area are exploring ways to improve dental care for low-income individuals by placing University of Missouri-Kansas City dental students into safety-net clinics.

Poor oral health can affect the entire family, Fuentes said.

“It causes children pain. It affects their emotional wellbeing. It affects their ability to concentrate and to attend school,” Fuentes said, “and it causes parents missed days of work.”

She applauded Rodgers’ expanded role in Clay County.

“Being able to stop this pain and this suffering and long-term effects of poor oral health is going to make a huge difference to that community,” she said.

As part of the launch, the two agencies have scheduled an open house at the Clay County facility, 800 Haines Drive in Liberty, from 2:00 - 3:30 pm on April 5th.


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