05/20/05 — Health Dept. is looking for a new dentist

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Health Dept. is looking for a new dentist

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 20, 2005 1:45 PM

The Health Department is actively seeking a new dentist to continue the program that began five years and became self-sustaining before its start-up grant ended.

Despite nearly 25 percent of its patrons lacking dental insurance and paying on a sliding scale, no county tax dollars supplement the program, Health Director James Roosen said.

The Health Department initially applied for a grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in 1998, but had to forfeit because it did not meet the stipulation of having a dentist already in place. That was not the case when the Health Department reapplied in 1999, and $225,182 was provided to open a dental clinic to serve low-income families.

The one-time allocation was used to pay staff salaries and purchase equipment, and stipulated that the program become self-sustaining by the time the 18-month grant period ran out. Through earned revenues and fees, it did, said Vicky Hill, administrative officer.

Roosen said there is an acute shortage of dentists in North Carolina, especially in areas considered more rural. Coupled with that, he said, most dentists prefer not to see patients with Medicaid or who can't pay the bill.

Fortunately, the Health Department has chosen to be a provider for the medically indigent, he said.

"I think there's a huge need in this community for dental care for adults," he said.

The program has grown rapidly in the just five years. It initially catered primarily to children and pregnant women, Ms. Hill said, but has expanded to accommodate the entire population.

"It probably takes a good month to two months for an adult to be seen in the clinic," Roosen said. A waiting list also covers all the requests for appointments.

Dr. Veronica Taylor is the second full-time dentist to work at the Health Department, although there have been also been interim dentists who helped keep the operation running smoothly.

Hired in 2002, Taylor had a baby nearly six months ago and commutes daily from her home in Onslow County. Her last day at work will be July 28.

Roosen said his staff is "recruiting aggressively for a full-time dentist" to replace Taylor by August 1 so there is no lapse in care.

"Who knows?" he said. "There might be somebody who's retiring as a dentist."

The clinic is open four days a week, Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The staff consists of one hygienist, two dental assistants and an office manager. Working out of two rooms, on an average day, 30 patients are seen.

Kathy Kelley processes insurance and sets up appointments. She says the office probably sees double the number of patients a regular dental office would see in a normal day.

"We can't get all of Goldsboro in here, not quick enough, that's for sure," she said. "We always have a waiting list."

Dental assistant Lisa Roberts said she previously worked in private practice, which doesn't always cater to the type of patients or needs the Health Department does.

"We do a lot of free work here, a lot of people who have Medicaid," she said. "Every day, we extend our heart and our services to these people. There's very much of a need for us to be here and to keep this clinic open."

This is Jennifer Diehl's first job as a dental assistant and she said while the office has a busy, fast-paced atmosphere, its availability is appreciated by the public.

"It's good that you can do something for the community," she said. "(Especially) women that have children in pain, that don't have insurance, that don't have a lot of money. We get the children set up on a treatment plan and a dental plan."

Sixty-five percent of the clinic's patients are children, Taylor said.

"There's rampant decay in children," she said. "A lot of dentists don't want to take Medicaid, so health departments jumped on the bandwagon."

The state has a public hygienist who goes to the elementary schools and screens children, then makes referrals as needed. Likewise, referrals are received through the hospital and the schools.

Services provided range from cleanings and fillings to extractions, x-rays, dentures and root canals.