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Supervisors avert closing of dental clinic

Posted on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 6:21 pm

(updates throughout – Board of Supervisors OKs funding for clinic)

MILFORD – In an effort to prevent the Caroline dental clinic from closing down, the Caroline County Board of Supervisors approved giving the clinic $30,000 this week.

The clinic treats 600 needy children annually, but state health officials want to close it – and similar clinics in Stafford and Spotsylvania – because of a lack of funding.

Linda D. Upshaw, a former public school nurse in Caroline County who witnessed first-hand the work of the clinic, asked the Board of Supervisors Tuesday evening to meet with Brooke Rossheim, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District (RAHD), which oversees the Caroline clinic. She suggested the board ask Rossheim “to slow down” the closing of the clinic to “give us time to put the clinic under a new umbrella” of funding.

Rossheim said in an interview earlier that the clinic has lost money for the past four years, mainly because of fewer patients coming through the door. The annual operating cost of the clinic is $250,000. It has a dentist, two dental hygienists and an office worker.

He and officials with the state health department agreed that it was time to shut down the clinic because of the revenue shortfall in recent years, he said.

The clinic opened in January 2003. At that time, few dentists would accept Medicaid patients, but now many dentists do, Rossheim said.

Upshaw told supervisors the current revenue shortfall at the clinic is $36,000. “It’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said. “The children of Caroline deserve better than to have the doors of the clinic shut in their face.”

Erin Van Ginhoven took her young son, Matthew, before the supervisors and said the clinic had filled the boy’s eight cavities. “Now he has no more cavities, and he can’t wait to see the dentist. I would hate to see the clinic go. Unhealthy teeth means unhealthy kids.”

Supervisor Floyd Thomas, chairman of the board, said county officials were contacting state officials to determine if the county could keep the clinic’s equipment.

“We will fight to keep it open,” Cynthia Green, the director of the Caroline County Department of Social Services, said in an interview. “We are all are shocked. I’ve called into the county administrator and asked that he meet with the dentist and me to see what we can do to save this clinic.” She also plans to meet with the Mary Washington Hospital Foundation, which has provided funding for it in the past.

The clinic opened to assure “that no child should suffer pain from a lack of dental care,” Upshaw told the board. “Ten years ago before these dental services were available, it was not uncommon to see children sent to the school nurse crying with dental pain. When I would look into their mouth, I would often see teeth that were broken, abscessed and so severely decayed that the teeth were black.”

The Caroline County Health Department contacted County Administrator Charles Culley and said “they were having difficulty funding the clinic,” said Culley.  The county government has no money in the current year budget for the dental clinic; nor did the county fund the clinic last year, Culley said. However, the county provided $7,605 for the clinic in fiscal year 2010 and $8,450 in fiscal year 2011, he said. The county’s portion was only a small part of the operating cost of the clinic.

The county provided $308,450 in fiscal year 2012 for the county health department and the same for fiscal year 2013. Funding for the health department was $300,000 in fiscal year 2011.

With a grant of $80,360 awarded to the RAHD, the clinic began operating three days a week and serving pre-kindergarteners to grade five. Eventually it expanded to four days and served children from age 1 to grade 12.

Additional support came from the Mary Washington Hospital Foundation, the Germanna Community College Department of Dental Hygiene, Rappahannock Valley Dental Association, Virginia Cooperative Extension Agency, the Virginia Division of Dental Health, Patterson Dental, Quinn Rivers Community Action Agency (Head Start) and Caroline’s Promise.

“We’ve seen some really sad dental cases come through the clinic,” Ms. Green said. “We are not going to take this quietly. It’s a much-needed resource for the county. We will fight to keep it open.”