Dental clinic coming to Monroe County

Office will offer care 5 days a week to low-income residents

10/29/2012
BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dr. Michael Granata, dental director of the Monroe County Health Department, left, and Tracy Cedar of the Michigan Community Dental Clinics, look at the site plan for the future dental clinic for low-income persons with county Commissioners Jerry Oley, second from right, and Dave Hoffman.
Dr. Michael Granata, dental director of the Monroe County Health Department, left, and Tracy Cedar of the Michigan Community Dental Clinics, look at the site plan for the future dental clinic for low-income persons with county Commissioners Jerry Oley, second from right, and Dave Hoffman.

MONROE — Monroe County will get a clinic to serve low-income persons who lack access to dental care.

The clinic will be at the Monroe County Health Department in offices the county will build and equip. It will staff its own dentists, hygienists, and dental technicians and serve only low-income, uninsured individuals — defined as those whose income is twice the poverty level or less — or those who are on Medicaid, MIChild, Delta Healthy Kids, or other public assistance insurance programs.

Monroe County previously only offered dental care to persons up to age 21 who had Medicaid.

A reception was held at the planned location, 2353 S. Custer Rd., last week. The construction will involve enclosing the old drive-in window of the former Bank of America branch and renovating some existing space, for a total of about 4,500 square feet.

“This project has been a long time coming, and we are very excited finally to be able to offer low-cost dental services to persons in need,” said R. LaMar Frederick, chairman of the county board of commissioners.

Mr. Frederick described the clinic as a public/private partnership between Monroe County and Michigan Community Dental Clinics Inc., the nonprofit chain that operates 21 dental clinics in Michigan. The chain has 68 dentists on its staff, about half on a full-time basis, according to Kim Singh, its director of community and governmental affairs.

Dr. Tom Veryser, the chain’s chief executive officer, emphasized the clinics are not free, but they offer reduced prices to patients without dental insurance who meet the income requirement. He said his clinics’ charges are 30 to 40 percent lower than those of a private dentist. Adults covered by Medicaid pay a $3 co-pay, while covered children pay nothing.

Mr. Frederick said Monroe County has about 22,000 Medicaid recipients, including 7,000 children, who will be potentially eligible for care at the clinic. He said the county will start advertising the services early next year and expects the clinic to be in operation by spring.

County and clinic officials were in talks for about a year. According to the contract between the two parties, the county will provide the facility and the clinic will pay rent that covers debt service for the $1,060,000 the county borrowed for the project.

The money will be repaid over 10 years at an annual interest rate of 2.07 percent, according to Michael Bosanac, the county’s director of administrative services. Debt service is $110,967 in the first year of the loan and increases to $120,231 in year 10. Mr. Frederick said the United Way of Monroe County contributed $25,000 to the project.

The clinic will operate Monday through Friday and provide comprehensive dental services, Ms. Singh said. It will have eight chairs and up to three dentists.

She said projections called for the clinic’s dentists to see about 4,000 patients a year, once it is established.

Ms. Singh added that patients need not be county residents, but “the focus is Monroe County.”

Visits will be by appointment, “but that doesn’t mean we won’t be working in a certain number of emergencies,” she continued. “We have a goal of getting folks in their chair within 10 minutes of arrival. Sometimes with a public clinic, you show up and there’s a line out the door. We focus on appointments.”

Kim Comerzan, the county’s heath officer/director, said, “There is a big need. We know that dental health as it relates to overall general health is important.”