PORT TOWNSEND — Plans for the first Rural Health Dental Clinic in the state will be presented to the public this month by Jefferson Healthcare during a community open house at the hospital.
The open house — set for 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 in the Dirkson Conference Room — will offer virtual tours and details about design plans and dental services offered before the clinic is opened next spring.
Newly hired dental clinic manager Susan Gile will be available to answer questions during the event.
The clinic will be located at the Olympic Medical Office Building, which currently houses primary care and behavioral health, across from the hospital at 834 Sheridan St.
The clinic is being designed by Bainbridge Island firm Coates Design Architects.
The dental clinic received $1 million in state capital funding in May and a $250,000 grant from Delta Dental of Washington’s Arcora Foundation in June to begin the pilot program that will serve an estimated 3,000 children and adults annually in the six-chair office.
The intention is to integrate dental care with other aspects of health care to treat the entire person.
The clinic will offer basic dental services including cleanings, cavity fillings, extractions and x-rays.
“We are the first clinic in the state to operate in this way,” said Amy Yaley, Jefferson Healthcare director of marketing and communications.
“We will be remodeling the offices and the plan is to be operating in the second quarter of 2019.”
Yaley said recruitment for a dentist is underway.
She said that dental care for the under- and uninsured is one of the most critical health needs in east Jefferson County. Recent changes to the state Medicaid program now allow Rural Health Clinics to bill an encounter rate rather than a fee-for-service rate for dental services.
“The changes to the the state Medicaid program will allow us to provide dental care to the most vulnerable in our community who often are forced to delay care until they go to the emergency department. By integrating the dental services with primary care and behavioral health, we can provide whole-person care,” Jenn Wharton, chief ambulatory and medical group officer, said in a press release.
The Rural Health Clinics program was established by the federal government to stabilize access to outpatient primary care in underserved rural areas, according to the state Department of Health. Under the program, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services designate private and nonprofit clinics meeting conditions for certification as Rural Health Clinics, which are eligible for enhanced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
According to Jefferson Healthcare, Jefferson County has one of the lowest utilization rates of dental care services for Medicaid-eligible clients in the state. It ranked last out of 39 counties for five years. In 2017, the county moved up to 36.
Since the expansion of Medicaid, there are almost 9,000 Jefferson County residents — 2,400 of whom are children — who are eligible for Apple Health. Of those, only 21 percent received dental care, according to the hospital.
Currently, the county has no dentists who treat adults with Medicaid, according to the hospital.
The project has been made possible by support from state taxpayers, the Washington State Hospital Association, state legislators, the state Department of Health, the Arcora Foundation and the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation, according to the press release.
Legislative District 24 legislators Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, supported the need for the program in Jefferson County the press release stated.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].