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Improving Access to Dental Care

February 10, 2017

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  • Providence Health & Services
    Elizabeth DeRuyter
    External Communications Director
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Providence, CHAS Health and Spokane District Dental Society partner to improve access to dental care for low-income adults in Spokane

Spokane, WA—Providence Health Care in eastern Washington, CHAS Health and the Spokane District Dental Society are teaming up to help bring dental care to nearly 12,000 low-income adults in Spokane County. The organizations are working together to establish a dental residency program in Spokane and build two new dental clinics that will increase access to dental services for under-served individuals in the community.

“Because the Spokane region currently lacks adequate reduced-cost adult dental resources, only 23 percent of Spokane County adults on Medicaid use their dental benefits,” says Mark Paxton, DDS, president-elect of the Spokane District Dental Society. “This results in delayed care and frequent use of hospital emergency departments for dental pain management,” he adds.

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Providence Holy Family Hospital emergency departments saw more than 3,600 patient visits for dental issues in 2015, most of which could be avoided.

The organizations are launching a major dental initiative that includes three key components: A dental residency program that will train up to six dentists per year; a large outpatient dental clinic near Providence Holy Family Hospital; and a smaller hospital-based clinic at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Dental residents will care for patients at both locations. The outpatient clinic will focus on routine and preventive care for the general adult Medicaid population. The hospital-based clinic at Sacred Heart will care for those with significant medical issues such as cardiac disease, cancer and dementia. The dental residents will practice alongside expert supervising dentists at both locations.

Hospital dental residencies are common in major medical centers throughout the United States. However, this will be the first of its kind in eastern Washington.

After completing dental school, some dentists choose dental residency programs to receive additional training in oral surgery, restorative dentistry and management of medically complex patients.

“Residency programs are an important way to address the growing shortage of physicians in our region as the majority of residents stay in the region where they complete their residency training, thereby increasing overall availability of care—a trend Providence expects to replicate with its dental residency,” says Judy Benson, M.D., Providence Graduate Medical Education Program Director, who is assisting with program development.

“Helping to train the next generation of medical and dental providers to serve under-served individuals is a priority for CHAS Health; and opening a clinic to address that goal while increasing access to dental care would be a major win for our community,” states CHAS Health CEO, Aaron Wilson.

Providence is modeling this program after a similar successful program at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. “Because of the residency program, we have been able to reduce emergency room visits while also caring for vulnerable and under-served individuals in our community,” says Amy Winston, D.D.S., Director of Dentistry at Swedish.

“This collaboration among Providence, CHAS Health, Spokane District Dental Society and the Washington State Dental Association has the potential to help thousands of individuals who are needlessly suffering and compromising their heath due to lack of access to dental services,” says Dr. Paxton.

Total cost of establishing the program and opening two dental clinics is $5 million. Completion is expected in 2018. Providence Health Care, Providence Health Care Foundation, CHAS Health and the Spokane District Dental Society are collaborating with the Washington State Dental Association to raise funds for the construction of these clinics.

Once constructed, the dental clinics will be self-sustaining and not require additional outside financial support. “We are confident this clinical infrastructure will create a ripple effect that goes beyond the services provided by each resident. It will fortify the dental safety net for eastern Washington and ensure our most vulnerable citizens receive the quality and timely care they deserve,” adds Dr. Winston.

About Providence Health Care

Providence Health Care is the eastern Washington service area of Providence Health & Services, a not-for-profit Catholic health care ministry committed to providing for the needs of the communities it serves–especially for those who are poor and vulnerable. The health system serves communities across five states— Alaska, California, Montana, Oregon and Washington. In eastern Washington, the Providence Health Care network of services includes Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and Providence Holy Family Hospital – all nationally recognized for quality care, as well as two critical access hospitals in Colville and Chewelah. It also includes a full continuum of services – Providence Medical Park in Spokane Valley (a comprehensive multi-specialty center), three urgent care centers, home health, assisted living, adult day health and skilled nursing care. Providence Medical Group of eastern Washington includes more than 800 physicians and advanced practitioners. Its medical staff includes primary care providers, surgical sub-specialists and medical specialists. For more information, visit phc.org.

About CHAS Health

CHAS Health is a non-profit federally qualified health center providing medical, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health and urgent care services to families and individuals of all ages regardless of ability to pay. With 12 locations throughout Eastern Washington and North Idaho, CHAS Health’s mission is to improve the overall health of communities by expanding access to quality health and wellness services. Currently serving over 65,000 patients in the Inland Northwest, CHAS Health continues to expand locations and services in order to meet growing patient needs. For more information, visit chas.org.

About Spokane Dental Society

The mission of the Spokane District Dental Society shall be to encourage the improvement of the health of the public and to promote the art & science of dentistry. For more information, visit spokanedentalsociety.org.