The Stark County Board of Health voted to close its dental clinic Wednesday after learning that the Ohio Department of Health eliminated its $75,000 dental care grant. The clinic at 3969 Convenience Circle NW handles 6,000 visits a year, and annually treats roughly 3,000 patients. Roughly 75 percent of the patients have no dental insurance and nearly one-third of them are covered by Medicaid.
Concerned patients began calling the Stark County Health Department’s dental clinic just after 1 p.m. Wednesday.
They had just learned the clinic at 3969 Convenience Circle NW would close its doors Feb. 15. They wanted to express their shock and outrage and to tell the staff they were sorry. They asked where they should go now, a question the clinic’s staff still was struggling to answer.
“I don’t know where to send them,” said Linda Cole, the clinic’s receptionist and backup dental assistant.
The Stark County Board of Health voted Wednesday to close the 20-year-old clinic that annually serves 3,000 low-income patients after learning that the Ohio Department of Health eliminated the clinic’s $75,000 dental care grant. The board also abolished the five employee positions at the clinic, which includes a dentist, three dental assistants and a dental hygienist.
Health Commissioner Kirk Norris said the board faced few good alternatives. He said the board had considered keeping a part-time clinic as well as ways to increase revenue.
“Unfortunately, the deficient amount that we would be accruing monthly is too great to implement any other strategies” he said.
Without the state funding, the clinic, which operates on roughly $400,000 a year, would have ended 2013 with a deficit of $126,418, budget estimates show. The clinic, which always has needed help from the Health Department’s main operating budget to meet expenses, finished 2012 with a deficit of $40,734.
Health board member Terrence Seeberger said it was disheartening that the clinic’s five employees will lose their jobs, but the board has a duty to operate the Health Department in a financially prudent manner.
“These are difficult numbers for a district like ours to absorb,” Seeberger said.
Carrie Farquhar, oral health section administrator for the Ohio Department of Health, said the state lost one of its major federal funding streams and could fund only 11 of the 24 dental programs that sought its three-year competitive grant intended to serve low-income and uninsured patients.
She said the allocation decisions were based on a series of criteria that considered the amount of need in the community, how many uninsured and underinsured patients the program accepted and the program’s performance history. No Stark County agency received funding.
Employees at the clinic held back tears Wednesday as they talked about the pending closure and their concern for their patients.
“I just keep thinking that because we help the public that somehow the funds would come,” dental hygienist Sandra Marsh said.
She worried that some of the clinic’s patients will stop going to the dentist because they will not be able to afford the fees charged at other offices. Roughly 75 percent of the clinic’s 3,000 patients have no dental insurance and nearly one-third of them are covered by Medicaid.
Page 2 of 2 - At the county’s dental clinic, patients without insurance are required to pay a $20 minimum fee, no matter if they get their teeth cleaned or a tooth extracted.
Jasmine Rusk, who has spent five of her 15 years as a dental assistant at the clinic, said she is skeptical that other dental clinics in Stark County will be able to accept such an influx of uninsured and underinsured patients.
“They (patients) are going to be in stat care and the ER, and they aren’t going to get the care they need,” she said.
A 2011 Stark Health Needs Assessment found that dental care was the greatest unmet health need reported by the residents surveyed. It also found that nearly 21 percent of children and 55 percent of adults aged 65 years and older had no dental insurance in 2008.
Norris said a letter will be sent to all of the clinic’s patients to notify them of the closure. He said the letter also will provide them with information about other dental clinics in Stark County, such as at the Canton Community Clinic and at Mercy Medical Center.