Jefferson Healthcare given $1 million to provide low-income dental care

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson Healthcare has received $1 million in state capital funding for a pilot program to provide dental health services to approximately 3,000 under- and uninsured adults and children in East Jefferson County.

The clinic is expected to open in the first quarter of 2019.

Jefferson Healthcare is the first Rural Health Clinic (RHC) in Washington state to offer these services.

The six-chair clinic will be located in the Olympic Medical Office building across from the hospital at 834 Sheridan St., which currently houses primary care and behavioral health clinics. Also located in the building is the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Patients will receive basic dental services such as cleaning, extractions, X-rays and filling cavities, said Amy Yaley, Jefferson Healthcare director of marketing and communication.

The clinic’s location will ease integration with other aspects of primary health care, she said.

The clinic will employ six to eight skilled staff including a dentist and several hygienists.

Washington Medicaid clients find it difficult to get dental services because the majority of dentists in the state do not accept Medicaid insurance.

Jefferson County has one of the lowest utilization rates of dental care services for Medicaid-eligible clients in the state, having ranked 39 out of 39 for five years, Yaley said.

In 2017, Jefferson County moved up three spots to 36th.

Since the expansion of Medicaid, almost 9,000 Jefferson County residents and 2,400 children are eligible for Apple Health. Of these, only 21 percent receive dental care.

Currently, no East Jefferson County dentists treat adults on Medicaid.

“This innovative solution of integrating dental services into primary care clinics operating as RHCs will leverage the recent changes to the Washington State Medicaid program which now allows RHCs to bill an encounter rate rather than a fee-for-service rate for dental services,” Yaley said.

“Dentists and dental hygienists employed by Jefferson Healthcare will provide dental care integrated with the primary care service line.”

There are economic benefits to the community associated with the project as well. For example, patients can avoid expensive and unnecessary visits to the emergency department for treatment. Better oral health for patients with chronic diseases results in better outcomes and a lower cost. And, there might be a reduction in absenteeism at school and work due to dental pain.

The project received support from the Washington State Hospital Association and from Legislative District 24 legislators Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim.

“Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn and his leadership team worked very diligently with legislators to fill a great need here in our community,” Yaley said. “They found a path to make health care more accessible for those who need it most.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or a jmcmacken@peninsuladailynews.com.

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