New dentist to fill coalition cavity

Amy Hamilton

Monday will be a breakthrough day for the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition.

It marks the first day that the nonprofit that offers dental services to low-income, indigent and Medicaid patients is open for business with a new, and hopefully, long-term dentist.

Hiring dentist Dr. Jerry Thalken from Nebraska feels like a “perfect fit for the community,” Director Debi Harmon said. The coalition also has hired a part-time dental hygienist.

“I felt like we had a community responsibility to check him out,” Harmon said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for him to grow with this position.”

Thalken has experience in low-income pediatric dentistry and has been around dentistry all of his life, as his father was a dentist, Harmon said. Thalken graduated from the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center College of Dentistry.

He starts work Monday.

Thalken enjoys skiing, hunting and fishing and didn’t blink about accepting a position in a rural area, Harmon said.

That’s a sticking point for the clinic as its first and former dentist, Joanna Hokanson, was hired and left within a month. Hokanson cited “personal reasons” for leaving, but the quick turnaround left the coalition in the lurch with a growing list of clients desperately needing dental care. Colorado law dictates that the coalition cannot require dentists to sign a contract specifying they will work for a specific length of time, but Harmon said she’s not worried about Thalken leaving any time soon.

The dentist has visited the clinic twice and seemed excited about the opportunity, she said. Also, Harmon said, while in negotiations with Thalken, another dentist looking to relocate to the area expressed extreme remorse that the Craig position had been filled.

“He said if it ever opens up again to let him know,” Harmon said.

But the dental workload ahead may be a challenge, Harmon said. There are more than 4,000 eligible Medicare patients in the five-county region of Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties, the area the clinic serves. Because of that she said she hopes to, at first, disperse the workload among dental clinics in an effort not to burn out the new dentist.

People can qualify for dental care through the clinic with Medicaid, Child’s Health Plan Plus and/or on a sliding scale for uninsured people who qualify. It is open for prenatal mothers and children as old as 20. Applications to determine qualification are available at the clinic on 485 Yampa Ave., or by calling 824-8000.

Eventually, the clinic wants to open its doors to adults, Harmon said.

Harmon said part of the successful hire might be attributed to welcoming community members who met with Thalken during visits.

“I really appreciate the community wrapping their arms around him and bringing him in,” Harmon said.

Amy Hamilton can be reached at 824-7031.

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