To stem the tide of low-income dental patients seeking help at local emergency rooms, Providence Medford Medical Center on Friday gave La Clinica $20,000 to help provide affordable emergency care at its 34-seat clinic in east Medford (location corrected from previous version).
Painful tooth problems are the second-most common cause of emergency room visits — amounting to 800 cases at Providence in 2011 — and the hospital can offer little dental help, other than antibiotics and painkillers, says La Clinica CEO Brenda Johnson. More than 80 percent of those emergency dental patients were uninsured.
"It makes no sense for dental patients to go to the emergency room. They're not trained to do what we do," says Johnson.
"At the emergency room we check for infection, but of the 800 visits, only four were admitted, and these had abscesses," Providence ER Director Susie Johnson said at a news conference.
Rogue Regional Medical Center's emergency department saw 259 patients for tooth problems in 2011 and 202 patients in 2012, according to a spokesman.
Providence's gift will be used to lower La Clinica's debt on the clinic from $150,000 to $130,000. Most of the $4.4 million cost of the clinic was paid by a federal grant of almost $3 million, and the rest came from foundation grants and fundraising, said La Clinica spokeswoman Julie Wurth. The funding goal should be reached by June, she added.
The modern clinic, at 1113 Progress Way in east Medford, has 16 chairs in operation.
The rest are due to come online in 2014, said Wurth, adding that patients who still go to the ER are given appointment cards for dental care within 48 hours.
La Clinica's dental care is provided on a sliding scale and costs far less than going rates. The clinic charges about half of its cost for restoration work, just below cost for rehabilitation work, and about 75 percent of cost for preventive care, which keeps tooth problems from escalating into more expensive and health-threatening work, said La Clinica Development Director Maria Underwood.
Almost a million people nationwide seek emergency room dental care, Wurth said, which costs about 10 times more than preventive work.
Partnerships such as the one with Providence helps uninsured patients get immediate care and gets them "into a preventative program that can improve their health overall," said Christopher Pizzi, Providence director of finance.
La Clinica this year marks its 25th anniversary. It opened in 1988 to serve migrant workers and shifted in 2001 to care for the general public.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.