New dental clinic will serve thousands of low-income patients
With three floors and 92 chairs for dental appointments, the new St. Louis Education and Oral Health Clinic has the equipment to fill some of the region’s oral health needs.
Kirksville’s A.T. Still University built the $24 million facility in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of St. Louis to train third-year students in its recently established dentistry school. The school has moved 42 trainees from Kirksville to St. Louis who will begin seeing patients in July. The clinic’s first appointments, however, are scheduled for June 15.
“Oral healthcare is extremely important, particularly to an underserved community,” said Dr. Kim Perry, an associate dean of ATSU who will oversee dental operations at the new building. “Oral health impacts their ability to work, and go to school and provide for their families.”
The site at 1500 Park Ave. will be managed by Affinia Healthcare, the network of federally qualified health clinics formerly known as Grace Hill. Federally qualified health centers frequently serve patients who are insured through Medicaid or Medicare, and offer appointments to uninsured patients at reduced rates.
“This is gorgeous,” said dental assistant Lisa Hebron, as she visited her new workplace for a pre-opening celebration on Tuesday. Hebron said she has worked in the industry for 21 years, and left a private practice to join Affinia. Access to affordable dentists, she said, is important.
“It’s something different,” Hebron said. “I’ll work with some students, put some knowledge out there.”
“We’re here to make a difference,” said ATSU president Craig Phelps, before the opening celebration Tuesday. “We could have gone to the suburbs and done it for about half the cost.”
The facility includes:
- Six dentistry chairs devoted to urgent care.
- Rooms to accommodate patients who use wheelchairs.
- Specialty services like oral surgery, dental prosthetics.
- A third floor, yet unused, which could become classrooms or additional clinic space.
Urgent care dentistry is particularly hard to access for patients who do not have private insurance. In a recent report, the Missouri Department of Health calculated that 58,309 people went to the emergency room with dental complaints in 2012, costing an estimated $17.5 million.
Outside the new facility, Affinia has only 17 patient chairs for dental appointments, including a mobile dental van for children. Average wait times for dental appointments in St. Louis can be a month or more, but Affinia CEO Alan Freeman said the added space should cut that down.
The new building opens with one funding source up in the air: Missouri’s legislature passed a budget for fiscal year 2016 that includes dental coverage for adults in the state’s Medicaid program. But Governor Jay Nixon, who blocked that funding last year, has yet to approve it.
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