Since January, the van has been stationed in Northwest Colorado, and it's been packed with dental patients.
Two weeks ago, the organization that operates the van pulled the traveling clinic out of Craig, fired one employee and discontinued service temporarily. The van is operated by Kids In Need of Dentistry (KIND), a Denver-based nonprofit agency that provides dental care to children of indigent families.
On Tuesday, KIND's new executive director, Mary Allman-Koernig, visited Craig to meet with the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition's Board of Directors to explain what's going on.
Allman-Koernig has only been with KIND since the beginning of March. She came on board during a tumultuous time for the organization. KIND has been through some major staff changes, and she's trying to stabilize things, Allman-Koernig said.
She had heard rumors that there were problems with the van, which was stationed in Craig. So she made an unannounced visit. She found the van needing repairs. She also had to let go one of her staff members. She immediately pulled the van out of service and sent it back to Denver for repairs.
Allman-Koernig said she knows it left the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition in a tight spot, since the coalition depends on the van's visits to treat the area's indigent and uninsured children.
"I didn't want to do that to the Craig community, but I had no choice," Allman-Koernig said.
Allman-Koernig delivered some additional bad news.
Funding for the Miles For Smiles program ends July 31.
Allman-Koernig said she could not guarantee that the van will be a service that KIND offers in future years. Even if it's offered, it may not make a trip to Northwest Colorado anymore.
"There has been work done to secure funding for Miles For Smiles," Allman-Koernig said. "But I can't make anybody any promises for next year."
KIND is stationed in Denver, where most of its programs operate. The dental van that travels the Western Slope is somewhat outside KIND's main mission, Allman-Koernig told the dental coalition board.
The announcement adds even more urgency to the dental coalition's goal of establishing a permanent, local, "safety-net" clinic, which would address a huge need for dentistry for indigent patients, said Debi Harmon, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.
In 2003, the dental coalition received a $25,000 planning grant to pursue the idea of establishing a local clinic. The grant was awarded by the Caring For Colorado Foundation, which may further fund the project.
Harmon said the dental coalition is among four agencies in the state eligible for another grant from Caring For Colorado. It's a three-year $450,000 grant that would be used to implement the safety-net clinic the coalition hopes to establish locally.
Two of the four eligible agencies will be awarded the money. The grant applications are due July 1. The dental coalition should know by November if the application was successful, Harmon said.
Harmon's hopeful about the grant, but the news about the van was still difficult to hear.
"It's frustrating, because for the last two years we've worked so hard," Harmon said.
Harmon has struggled to get the word out about the dental van and the need for dentistry for children. She worked with other agencies to schedule appointments for children in Moffat and surrounding counties. And she lobbied KIND to allow Medicaid children to be treated on the van. Just this year, KIND added eligibility for Medicaid children.
Allman-Koernig told the coalition that the van will be coming back to Craig on April 19, when repairs are finished and a new staff is in place.
But the van's time in the area was limited to begin with, and the loss of three weeks of appointments will make it hard to fit everyone in, Harmon said.
Allman-Koernig said the van will use two chairs instead of one, to try to make up for the lost time.
The traveling office's services include cleanings, dental screenings and more advanced procedures. Three weeks of the van's time was already scheduled for treatments, such as fillings, crowns and extractions, Harmon said.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.