(Ed. note: A version of this will appear in the Spring/Summer issue of Impact.)
Access to specialty dental care for the uninsured and underinsured in our community took a significant step forward with the recent opening of the Swedish Community Specialty Clinic dental program, the first of its kind in the Puget Sound area.
Oral health services have become less available to low-income individuals since the state funding of adult Medicaid dental programs was cut in January, 2011. The funding cuts have also affected dental-care access for developmentally disabled and elderly populations. These reductions have led to an increase in hospital visits, as severe dental pain is among the top five reasons underserved patients utilize the emergency room.
In response to this critical need, Swedish began brainstorming new ways to address the gap in care offerings. In September, 2010, Swedish opened the innovative Swedish Community Specialty Clinic (SCSC) as part of its more than 100 year commitment to providing excellent medical care to all in need, regardless of their ability to pay. The SCSC is designed to treat low-income uninsured or underinsured patients with services including orthopedics, dermatology, cardiology, gynecology, neurology, occupational therapy, podiatry and many others. Adding a dental program was a natural next step for the SCSC. In collaboration with Seattle Special Care Dentistry and Project Access Northwest, Swedish embarked on a plan to install three new procedure areas, fully equipped for specialty-care services, within the SCSC.
At the January 17 ribbon cutting. From left to right: Amy Winston, DDS, Bart Johnson DDS - both from Seattle Specialty Dental Program. Jerry Retsema- Burkhart Dental Supply. Princy Rekha, DDS – Seattle King County Dental Society & Foundation. Dan Dixon – Vice President, External Affairs at Swedish.
The dental clinic is designed as a referral-based service for patients who are at or below 200 percent of poverty level. Patients are referred to the clinic through Project Access Northwest. Swedish estimates some 30 volunteer dental professionals will see up to 450 patients in the first year of the clinic’s operation. As many as 45 volunteer dentists and oral surgeons will treat an estimated 2,000 patients in its second year. The initial focus of the clinic is difficult tooth extractions with plans to include endodontic and periodontal services in the future.