PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson Healthcare’s Rural Health Clinic is the first in the state to offer dental services that Medicaid, under-insured and uninsured patients can utilize, and officials are looking to hire additional staff to meet the high needs in the community.
The clinic opened in June, and due to the high volume of patients, another full-time dentist and dental hygienist is needed, said Jake Davidson, executive director of clinic operations.
The clinic is in the Sheridan Medical Office building at 915 Sheridan St., and the facility allows the primary care and emergency department physicians to give referrals easily for patients who use Medicaid, Davidson said.
“Our primary care providers now have somewhere to refer patients. That’s always been a big issue, especially for the Medicaid population here,” Davidson said. “We now have a place for patients who are either under- or uninsured for dental services.
“We’re seeing patients for dental care who haven’t been seen in 20, 30 years, so now they’re getting care that they should have had long ago.”
Some patients used to go to the emergency department for dental issues and could only receive antibiotics, and now the providers are able to send them to the dental clinic to be seen usually the next day, if not the same day, Davidson said.
“Now we can get those patients in and get them the care that they really need,” Davidson said.
Currently, the full time dentist is Dr. Pavel Vasilyuk, and soon dentist Dr. David Chuljian will be assisting the clinic on a per-diem basis starting after Jan. 1, Davidson said.
The six-chair clinic was established mostly through grant funding of $1.5 million, and construction was completed by Coates Design, who has worked with Jefferson Healthcare before, said Amy Yaley, Jefferson Healthcare’s director of communications.
“They’re great. We’ve worked with them on other projects as well,” Yaley said. “They’re familiar with our needs and the needs of a medical facility, so they’ve been great.”
The need for a dental facility that accepted Medicaid was revealed during the Community Health Assessment three years ago. Jefferson Healthcare explored the possibilities of how it could assist and helped change the state law for rural health clinics, which could already accept Medicaid, to be able to house a dental facility, Davidson said.
“The law was changed by the advocacy work we did as an organization,” Yaley said. “Allowing [Jefferson Healthcare] to pull a dental clinic under a [rural health clinic] was one way we navigated reimbursement for Medicaid patients.”
Before the clinic opened, Jefferson County had one of the lowest utilization of dental care services for Medicaid-eligible clients in the state, ranking 39 out of 39 counties for five years. In 2017, Jefferson County moved up to third from last.
Since the expansion of Medicaid, there are almost 9,000 adults and 2,400 children in Jefferson County who are eligible for Apple Health. Before the clinic opened there was not a single dentist in the county who would see adults with Medicaid, Yaley said.
Clinic supervisor Heidi Matthews appreciates the impact the clinic has been able to make on the community.
“Our presence has been rewarding in so many ways for our patients and our dental staff,” Matthews said. “Its been an uplifting experience to see our dental team empower our patients to walk back to the dental chairs, knowing we are here to help care for their many dental needs, in a nurturing manner, as they deserved.
“It’s been a pleasure seeing the difference when they leave our office with confidence and smiling faces, knowing they can return for dedicated continued care and finally have a dental office to call their own.”
Now officials are exploring different possibilities on how to expand dental care in south Jefferson County, but no plans have been made at this time, Davidson said.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]