Commissioner: Dental clinic a model

April 15, 2011

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Community Dental Clinic in Martinsville is a model program that might be duplicated — at least partially — in other areas, State Health Commissioner Karen Remley said Thursday.

Remley and Jeff Lake, deputy commissioner for public health, who oversees the State Health Department offices, toured the dental clinic on Thursday. They also visited the local health department office on Commonwealth Boulevard and the New College Institute.

The clinic is operated by the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation and staffed by students from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Dentistry and School of Dental Hygiene and the Danville Community College Dental Hygiene program. It has a full-time dentist, Dr. Risa Odum, and 75 percent of the local dentists volunteer to supervise the students.

The clinic has provided more than $3 million in services to local adults and children since it opened nearly five years ago.

After the tour, Remley praised the clinic, saying it is a “model that makes sense” and “respects everyone ... a win-win for everybody.”

She explained that patients are served in what appears to be a traditional dental office, even though they only pay what they are able. The minimum payment is $20 per visit, regardless of the procedure performed.

The dental students feel valued, as evidenced by the first-class facilities, including housing, provided for them, Remley said.

“Nobody cut corners” on the facilities and equipment, she added.

Having seen the clinic, Remley said when she talks with state officials and legislators about health care models that work, she will be familiar with the Martinsville operation and can consider “where else can the model work.”

Also, a challenge is finding a sustainable source of funds, she said, so clinic officials are not spending all their time seeking grants and other funds.

The clinic has a total annual budget of $383,000, and dental fees provide $283,000 of that, said Dr. Mark Crabtree, a Martinsville dentist and president of the dental health foundation. The Harvest Foundation has provided about $90,000 to $100,000 each year, and the rest comes from grants and contributions, Crabtree said.

He added that other partnerships result in everything from children’s toys in the waiting room to art on the walls.

In 2009, the clinic received the Public-Private Partnership Award from The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU.

The clinic received two $25,000 state appropriations when it started but has gotten no other state funds since then, Crabtree said. Remley indicated that is not likely to change.

“In significant fiscal times, the important thing is to go back” with the lessons of a model that works, with numbers and outcomes to back up its success, she said.

Lake praised the local dentists for volunteering at the clinic and added that the local model especially offers lessons in combining resources, such as was done here between the clinic and the local health department office.

Dr. Gordon Green, director of the West Piedmont Health District, which operates the health department office, said it no longer provides dental services. Demand for those services dropped as more local dentists provided care to the needy, and after the department’s dentist retired, it could not afford to hire another one, he said.

The clinic filled that need so there was no void, added Green, who accompanied Remley and Lake on their tour.

“We are doing better than most communities our size with our economic situation (in providing dental care to the needy). We don’t want to split our resources,” he added.

Demand for the clinic’s services has continued to rise. Its staff, students and volunteer dentists have performed 15,091 diagnostic services, 7,599 preventive services, 6,643 fillings, 617 root canals and 6,217 extractions during 13,242 appointments since it opened in August 2006, it announced in March.

There is a one-year wait for new patients, although emergency cases are treated more quickly, Crabtree said.

Remley said she was impressed by the combination of Dr. Crabtree’s passion to help the community, Green and the local Health Department’s commitment to do the same and VCU’s role in the clinic.


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