ORANGE — When Medicaid expanded for adults in early 2019, the wait time at the Piedmont Regional Dental Clinic went from two weeks to three months because of increased demand.
“Waiting three months for a restorative appointment is unsatisfactory,” the clinic’s executive director, Mary Foley, said. “Pain doesn’t cease. Decay doesn’t improve and patients lose interest in pursuing care with long-term medical consequences for both the individuals and society.”
At the end of December, Foley learned that the Virginia Health Care Foundation had conditionally offered the clinic a $156,896 grant to expand its operations, provided it could raise $100,000 in local contributions.
The funds will be used to add five additional operatories in the clinic in the Colonial Square Shopping Center on U.S. 15 at the south edge of the town of Orange. While the VHCF funds would help pay for the new equipment, the local funds would be needed to make building improvements to accommodate the expansion.
In a community-wide effort that included matching contributions from founder Andre Hintermann and board member Dr. Gerald Kluft, the clinic was able to raise approximately $60,000 in a few weeks.
Still, the clinic was $40,000 shy of its goal.
Foley appealed to the Culpeper Wellness Foundation to help bridge the gap.
“Part of our mission is to promote the health and welfare of the residents of Culpeper, Orange and Madison,” CWF board Chairman David Jones said. “We understand the value of dental health as it relates to overall health. A lot of times, dental health is the last thing people fix from a health standpoint, and that can create a number of other physical problems.”
“In my wildest dreams I didn’t think they’d be able to help us fill that gap,” Foley said. “Even after all they’ve generously given, I didn’t see this coming. We are genuinely grateful.”
As demand for services increased, she said, the clinic couldn’t keep up.
“The Virginia Piedmont is an underserved rural area in Virginia from an oral health standpoint, and Orange is centrally located,” Foley noted. “The number of dentists per capita ranges from 1:2,700 in Culpeper County to 1:9,810 in Greene County. The average in Virginia is 1:1,470. The area also has relatively few Medicaid providers and fewer still that accept adult Medicaid coverage.”
The region has a lot of patients in need of care, she said.
At the same time, the clinic has room for expansion. The area of the building formerly occupied by the Orange County Free Clinic represented approximately 3,500 square feet of underutilized space, Foley said. The grant funds will allow the clinic to add five more operatories (it currently has nine), expanding capacity and increasing patient care.
Three days per week, the former free clinic space will be used for pediatric care, while the main clinic will be devoted to treating more adults. The space also will enable the clinic to restart its popular walk-in extraction clinic helping those in acute pain.
Another benefit, Foley continued, is the ability to accommodate Germanna Community College-sponsored expanded function dental assistant courses.
By expanding its operation, the clinic will be able to establish a separate entrance for children and their families apart from the adult public health patients. It will allow for increased staff to meet the demand for Medicaid families and patients. It also should improve operations by leveraging existing centrally located office resources, including lab, administration, sterilization and storage.
The Orange award is one of 15 VHCF grants totaling more than $1.1 million given to safety-net organizations throughout the state. Of those funds, more than $760,000 is dedicated to increasing access to dental service for uninsured or underserved Virginians.
“They do wonderful work here and oral health is a critical part of health care,” VHCF Deputy Director Rachel Rees said. “They’re at capacity. This will help them reach more people in need. For us, it’s a good investment.”
“This is a huge benefit to the clinic,” PRDC board Treasurer Richard Powers added. “Donations like this are few and far between. This will really move our program forward.”
“The Culpeper Wellness Foundation and the Virginia Health Care Foundation have been very generous to us,” Foley said. “We just needed more space to get more people in.”