Dental clinic for low-income residents to close next month
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Jon Underwood of Port Angeles gets prepared for a dental procedure by Katie Evans, left, and Maxine Hoffman, clinic coordinator for the OlyCAP Oral Health Services center in Port Angeles on Thursday. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- A dental clinic for low-income residents will shut down next month because of state budget cuts and the rising cost of Medicaid.

Oral Health Services, operated by Olympic Community Action Programs, will close its Port Angeles clinic and auxiliary location in Forks on Feb. 28.

A program also run by the nonprofit organization that used portable dental equipment to serve Jefferson County residents was discontinued at the end of 2010.

"It's too much," said OlyCAP Executive Director Tim Hockett, referring to $270,000 in additional costs the clinic would have to bear this year due to the loss of state funding and a decrease in Medicaid reimbursement.

"We can't do it. It's crushing us."

The Port Angeles clinic opened in 2006 and had 5,500 patient appointments last year with an additional 1,000 emergency visits. The office is at 228 W. First St.

OlyCAP started renting space in a building near Forks Community Hospital last year to provide dental care but on a much smaller scale, Hockett said.

Patients were charged sliding scale fees according to income, and the clinic was one of the few area dental services that accepted Medicaid patients, Hockett said.

The pending closure comes as another to hit to the North Olympic Peninsula's poor after the CliniCare medical clinic in Port Angeles, which accepted patients without insurance, closed in late October.

But OlyCAP's patients may not be left completely stranded.

Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics -- or VIMO -- aims to start a smaller-scale dental program for the uninsured in Port Angeles as soon as possible, said Executive Director Larry Little.

"VIMO's mission is to provide health care to the uninsured," he said. "To me, providing dental care is part of our mission."

Little, a dentist, said he may only be able to garner enough funds to provide emergency-level dental treatment.

But the need for discounted or free care for the Peninsula's poor is too great, he said, to do nothing.

"I'm going to work really hard on getting some sort of baseline emergency care in place by the time [the dental clinic] closes or soon after," Little said.

Hockett said Thursday, while on his way to meet with Little, that he supports the idea and plans to offer the clinic's Port Angeles space.

"They're a stakeholder in serving the community," he said of VIMO. "It [their help] is good to have."

A new dental clinic could be incorporated into a large federal grant that VIMO has applied for, Little said.

The grant would provide $650,000 a year to establish a "Federally Qualified Health Center."

The center would be independent of the nonprofit organization and provide dental, medical and mental health treatment to those in need, Little said.

Any help would be appreciated, said Jon Underwood, an OlyCAP patient.

"This place is really good, and it helps a lot of people," said Underwood, 32.

Asked what he would do without it, he said, "That, I couldn't tell you."

That's a typical response from the clinic's patients, OlyCAP dentist Brett Startin said.

"They ask, 'What are we supposed to do?' and we don't have an answer for them," he said.

Startin said staff were notified Wednesday and began breaking the news to patients.

Most of the clinic's patients haven't been to a dentist in more than 10 years, Startin said.

Hockett said OlyCAP began using portable dental equipment in the early 1990s to provide care for people across the Peninsula.

For more information, phone OlyCAP offices at 360-452-4726 in Port Angeles and 360-374-6193 in Forks.

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Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at tom.callis@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 27. 2011 11:52PM
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