Dental coalition nabs grant, loses dentist

First the good news.

The Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition asked the Gates Family Foundation for $20,000 and received almost twice that amount.

After the Denver-based foundation's executive director visited the new clinic in Craig, the foundation made a gift of $38,000.

But, before the coalition could celebrate the unexpected good fortune, it received some bad news.

The coalition's dentist turned out to be a poor fit for the organization, and she quit as the clinic was getting ready to open.

But coalition director Debi Harmon described the dentist's departure as only a temporary setback. The coalition already is looking for another dentist.

Taking the good and the bad in stride, the coalition temporarily has scheduled a grand opening for June 7. At the opening, the coalition will recognize the local contractors and donors who made the clinic a reality.

In about eight weeks, a state-of-the-art facility has been constructed at Yampa Avenue and West Victory Way. The clinic includes "pedo-benches," which are less threatening to children than typical dental chairs, an X-ray room, a treatment office and a toy chest to reward well-behaved children.

The clinic already has treated 29 patients. Forty appointments were scheduled, but they needed to be postponed when the dentist quit.

"In the next couple weeks, we'll see patients prevention-wise. Our goal is to find a permanent dentist," Harmon said.

As often happens on new projects, construction ran above cost in several areas. Some pipes in the pedo-benches needed to be replaced, because they didn't meet code. One of the few specialists in the state who can work on the clinic's gas system was more expensive than clinic management expected him to be.

Understanding these things, the Gates Family Foundation made a larger gift than the coalition requested; they wanted to make sure the project happened, Foundation Director Tom Kaesemeyer said.

His organization was shocked to find that subsidized dental care for children did not exist in Northwest Colorado; so far this year, the foundation has not encountered an organization that was providing a more needed service.

Secondly, the foundation was impressed by the amount of local support and Harmon's leadership of the effort.

"We wanted to make sure it happened," Kaesemeyer said. "When you have that kind of coalition of people and that kind of leadership, you know it's going to be successful."

In the coming weeks, the coalition will work with the dental school at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely to arrange for dental students to do some work at the clinic.

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