Dental group gets $450,000 for clinic

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Horror stories of uninsured children suffering from severe dental problems may become a thing of the past in Northwest Colorado.

Officials from the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition learned Wednesday that they have received a $450,000 grant from the Caring for Colorado Foundation to operate a "safety net" dental clinic in Craig.

The clinic will provide services to children up to age 18 who are uninsured or qualify for Medicaid.

"Everybody is ecstatic," said Dental Coalition Executive Director Debi Harmon. "The was the ultimate goal of the coalition when it formed in 1997 -- to have its own clinic."

In April, the coalition learned that the traveling Miles for Smiles dental van, operated by Kids in Need of Dentistry, no longer would serve Northwest Colorado. The move cemented the coalition board's commitment to establish a permanent clinic in Craig that would provide preventative dental care to children who might otherwise forego visits to the dentist.

The Caring for Colorado foundation has a five-year oral health initiative. The foundation board approved a plan to distribute $1 million a year for five years as a safety net for providers who don't have the financial resources they need to fund services. The foundation also is focusing on preventative care for children, said Susan Hill, vice president of programs for the foundation.

The Northwest Dental Coalition received a planning grant from the foundation to assess dental health in Northwest Colorado and form a plan to address the unmet needs.

"They worked hard on a good business plan to bring a clinic to Craig," Hill said. "The Miles for Smiles van has been in Craig in the past, but it's no longer there. The experience alerted people to how great the need was. They saw kids with real oral health problems and were aware the need was greater than they were able to serve through the van. It was just the tip of the iceberg, and they saw a need for a permanent and year-round clinic.

"It's really exciting for us because our foundation's mission is to help increase access to health services to underserved populations -- both in terms of a lack of resources and geographic isolation. For us, it's a really big investment, but we think the potential is just enormous."

The grant will provide $150,00 a year for three years, which will support a dental team, Harmon said. But the coalition board also is seeking a one-time $100,000 grant through the state's $6 million rural health care initiative to cover major equipment costs. The grant would be funded through the state Department of Local Affairs.

If the state grant doesn't materialize, the coalition will have to find a way to underwrite "the capital piece" of its plan, Harmon said.

But they already have received word that two dentists in Colorado Springs are prepared to donate three dental chairs, some lights and a Panorex X-ray machine if the coalition can find a way to haul the equipment.

The coalition board is also in the running for a cash prize from the El Pomar Foundation. The coalition was nominated for the foundation's Award for Excellence program in the small healthcare category. The winner will be announced Nov. 17. First place receives $15,000, which could be applied toward direct patient care.

The board has identified a potential clinic location, but Harmon said the announcement will have to wait until all the pieces are in place.

The clinic will accept Medicaid patients and children who are covered by the state's Child Health Plan Plus. It also will provide services on a sliding scale for those who don't qualify for those programs but aren't insured.

"It's huge news," said coalition board member Carol Sharp of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

"We'll have a lot more children smiling."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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