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Trying to meet swelling demand and round out its business model, the Summit Community Care Clinic recently completed its dental office expansion and is now welcoming new patients.
The 3,500-square-foot dental health clinic on the third floor of Frisco’s Medical Office Building opened its doors on Jan. 12, allowing the county’s nonprofit, safety-net health clinic to more than double patient load. Previously, the clinic hosted three dental-specific rooms in its general office on the medical building’s first floor. Those will be converted to primary care to increase capacity there, too, and the seven upstairs dental spaces will serve the ever-expanding need.
“In general, Colorado needs more dental care, particularly in this region,” said Jordan Schultz, Care Clinic development director. “We just have a huge shortage of providers, especially when you start talking about providers who take Medicaid or are uninsured. So that was really the nexus for why this clinic came to be.”
Among Summit and the neighboring counties of Lake, Park, Grand and Chaffee, the number of adults who haven’t logged a visit to a dentist in the past year is 38 percent. The national average is closer to 30 percent, and much of the region’s deficit has to do with the existence of a so-called “dental desert” because of the lack of providers in these communities.
Couple that with the expansion of Medicaid in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, offering those covered by the national health care plan for lower-income families $1,000 to spend annually on dental needs, and it was a double whammy for the small Summit clinic as people flooded in. At a point, a regular visit to a Care Clinic could take up to six months for an appointment with a dentist or hygienist.
The necessity for additional resources to the area community was clear when the Care Clinic began considering stepping in back in December 2015. The county government’s in-kind donation of the third-floor office, valued at about $200,000 each year — to go along with the annual $200,000 for the first-floor space already — made the goal a real possibility. Still, it wasn’t as smooth a transition as had been hoped, with the Care Clinic hitting serious financial issues this past summer.
The 24-year-old clinic started to deal with an unmanageable payer mix, reaching a peak of 68 percent of patients without insurance, meaning no way to pay, and the Federally Qualified Health Center had to take a look at significantly cutting services given a $400,000 budget shortfall. In turn, the behavioral health component of its comprehensive care system, including some of the hours it holds at area school-based health centers, were likely the first items on the chopping block.
After a community fundraising effort, however, services were officially preserved by early fall. That also reinvigorated efforts to finish the $1 million dental clinic through considerable fundraising from federal assistance programs, private foundations and an assortment of community donors.
“The timing coincided with a rough financial patch for the clinic,” said Helen Royal, Care Clinic CEO, “and to be able to rebound, and have the community support … this is a big deal from six months ago. And we also offer more extensive services than other FQHCs. We’ve just always believed that people need to get the same level of care that they would get if they had insurance.”
Rather than providing merely standard cleanings, extractions and restorative care, like most other community dental offices, the Care Clinic’s unit also supplies procedures like root canals, crowns and bridges. Pricey, in-house specialty equipment assists with those care alternatives.
“There’s a real, big misconception about what treatment can be completed here,” said Dr. Tim Huson, one of the office’s dentists. “‘Oh, don’t you just do silver fillings?’ So it’s our goal to kind of educate the community and let them know that all the private practices are great, but sometimes this is a better place for people. We basically do every procedure in here besides implants.”
Huson’s wife, Dr. Erin Van Gundy, is another provider at the expanded dental office and acts as its director. Dr. Stephanie Barnett is a third dentist on staff, and the Care Clinic plans to hire a fourth soon. Four dental assistants are also presently on staff, with more to come to ensure patient care matches the standard inherently produced by an office with such elevated aesthetic, including a comfy waiting room and spacious, naturally-lit operation labs.
All the while, the downstairs Care Clinic will continue to function as it always has, serving those who otherwise may not have another health care choice. They’ll still take all forms of insurance and encourage those with options to schedule an appointment, too. With two rooms in the upstairs dental office housing behavioral health and school-based staff to guarantee, the organization stays true to its core mission of fully integrated care, the Care Clinic hopes to carry on in Summit for many more years to come.
“It’s beautiful, it’s brand new, and I think it doesn’t feel like a community health center,” said Schultz. “Everyone deserves the highest-quality care that they can get, so that’s why I think this dental clinic is so important to the community.”