After much anticipation, Central Peninsula Health Centers Inc.'s vision for dental health care for underinsured and uninsured dental patients will become a reality next Wednesday when the Aspen Dental Center opens its doors. In spite of funding and recruiting obstacles, the dental clinic, which originally was scheduled to open around the beginning of March, will begin seeing patients next week on a limited basis.
The center is an expansion of CPHC services targeting the under- and uninsured. As with other components of CPHC, such as the Cottonwood Health Center in Soldotna, fee discounts will be offered based on family income. Denali KidCare, Medicaid and Medicare payments will be accepted.
Stan Steadman, CPHC Inc. executive director, said the center will address priority appointments, which include adult dental emergencies and children.
"All patients are welcome," Steadman said in a statement released to the Clarion, "but our mission is to serve people who are low income and lack insurance."
The clinic, located on the corner of Main Street and Barnacle Way in Kenai, will employ three full-time employees, initially, including a dental assistant, a site manager and a receptionist. Dental services will be provided by a part-time dental hygienist and two part-time dentists.
Dr. Paul Engibous, an Anchorage-based pediadontist is transitioning his current weekly visits to Aspen Dental Center and will be available one day a week until July, when he will begin seeing patients twice a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Steadman said Engibous had prior responsibilities that would keep him occupied until July.
Dr. Todd Walker, a general practice dentist, will provide service in the clinic on Mondays and Tuesdays beginning April 21. The dentists will work 10-hour days. Steadman said Engibous will be able to see between 20 and 25 patients a day and Walker will be able to see 12 to 15 patients.
"It has a lot to do with our capacity to deliver services with a limited staff," Steadman said of the limited basis the center will operate under. "We are still recruiting full-time employees."
Dental coordinator Traci Martinson said problems with locating a full-time dentist contributed to delaying the opening of the clinic. A candidate the center recruited for the position pulled out at the last minute, she said.
"The fact that we had somebody and lost them set our time line back," she said.
Funding for the center also was an issue that slowed up progress, Steadman said. Negative reaction from area private dentists in December hampered a disproportionate share funding plan that would funnel state monies totaling about $570,000 to pay the balance of the center's building.
But the center is using a recurring $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Bureau of Primary Health Care and $132,000 from the Denali Commission.
Steadman said a crucial aspect of the limited services is that the clinic will be filling a backlog of need in the community. Martinson said some appointments already have been made, but they are not booking very far in advance.
"We've had literally hundreds of people who've contacted us who are looking for service," she said. "There are more people looking for appointments than there are appointments that can be filled."
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