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Providence grant adds Clinica dentist position

Position had been eliminated when the Legislature cut adult dental care from the Oregon Health Plan

The dentist's chairs are busy again at La Clinica del Valle in Phoenix.

A &

36;100,000 grant from the Providence Health System allowed the safety-net clinic to fill a dentist's position that was eliminated in 2003, when the Oregon Health Plan eliminated dental care for adults.

The one-year grant will give La Clinica time to try to find funding from other sources, including the federal Bureau of Primary Health Care, said Maria Ramos-Underwood, deputy director.

It's a great commitment from Providence, Ramos-Underwood said.

She noted that dental pain is high on the list of medical problems that drive people to seek emergency care at a hospital. Hospitals are required by law to see anyone who seeks treatment, but hospitals are not equipped or staffed to provide dental care.

— If you have an abscess and don't have affordable dental care, you go to the ER, she said. They'll give you something for pain and antibiotics for the infection, but they don't address the source of the infection.

Sometimes it's a revolving door.

Providence Health System, the parent company of Providence Medford Medical Center, awards &

36;2 million annually to organizations in four states that work with its local hospitals to provide medical care for low-income people.

Health care for the poor and vulnerable is a key component of our mission, said Brian Herwig, assistant administrator for professional services at Providence Medford.

Herwig said the shortage of low-income dental care in Jackson County surfaced when Providence Medford reviewed the community's medical needs. The hospital requested support for La Clinica from Providence Health System's service area support fund.

We wanted to work with La Clinica, Herwig said. They had already provided the service. They had the facilities. They just needed some support.

The clinic lost about &

36;800,000 of its anticipated budget of &

36;5.1 million in 2003 when the Legislature cut back the Oregon Health Plan. The legislators' decision to drop dental care for adults forced the clinic to eliminate one of three dentist positions and close the dental office at its main clinic at 3617 S. Pacific Highway in Phoenix.

The grant allows La Clinica to re-open the Phoenix dental office. The new dentist, Dr. Sheila Safarian, will join Drs. Michael Costa and Ira Povey on La Clinica's dental staff.

Ramos-Underwood said one additional dentist will only begin to address the dental needs of Jackson County's low-income population. A dentist can manage perhaps 600 to 700 patients, but data indicate as many as 48,000 Jackson County residents (nearly one in four) earn so little that dental care is prohibitively expensive.

Without preventive care, little problems turn into big ones. Teeth with untended cavities eventually require root canals or extraction.

We have five emergency (dental) patients come into the clinics every day ' people who can't stand the pain anymore, Ramos-Underwood said. If we can't see them they go to the ER.

Dr. Ira Povey treats Maria Cortez of White City at La Clinica del Valle?s dental office in Phoenix. State spending cuts forced La Clinica to close its Phoenix dental suites in 2003, but a Providence Health System grant has reopened the dental office. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell