FirstHealth Dental Centers Get Funds to Extend Hours
A grant from the North Carolina Health & Wellness Trust Fund (HWTF) will not only enable the FirstHealth Dental Care Centers to offer extended hours, but it will also allow dental care professionals at the three centers to educate their young patients about the risks of being overweight or obese.
The three-year, $180,000 grant was one of seven awards made to health care organizations throughout the state through the HWTF's $2 million Oral Health Initiative (OHI).
The aim is to increase access to treatment and preventive services for underserved, high-need populations, and to train dental and other health care providers to better serve those populations.
"It is unfortunate that many North Carolina citizens do not receive basic dental care, which is so critical for overall good health," says Vandana Shah, HWTF executive director. "We hope that these grant funds will provide more North Carolina citizens with access to high-quality, accessible oral health care."
The goals of the OHI closely correspond with those of the FirstHealth dental clinics. Located in Southern Pines, Raeford and Troy, the Dental Care Centers have provided care to more than 19,000 low-income children in almost 11 years of operation.
The centers currently average 1,000 dental care visits each month, a figure that Dr. Sharon Nicholson Harrell, director of the centers, expects to increase by another 100 patients with the extended hours. Many of those patients will be uninsured.
"This is an effort to target uninsured patients by providing more hours that are more convenient for them," Harrell says.
A portion of the HWTF funding will also help offset the cost of providing care for uninsured patients who will pay only a nominal fee despite the actual cost of the care they receive.
At the full-time Southern Pines clinic, which already operates six days a week, the HWTF grant will provide staff time for extended office hours on two Fridays per month. At Raeford and Troy, the grant will fund clinic hours for three Saturdays each month, time to be divided between the two locations according to need.
According to Harrell, patients have already begun to ask for Saturday appointments.
"Saturday hours are very popular for teenagers who have a hard time leaving school for appointments," she says. "For many parents who can't leave work, Saturday hours are always good. They are already popular at Southern Pines, so they will probably be just as popular everywhere."
Private practice dentists, hygienists and dental assistants who already supplement Dental Care Center staff time will assist even more with the beginning of expanded hours.
Local providers include Drs. Kamron Monroe, Shannon Allison, Nancy Harp, Christina Powers and Jane Sessler. Dental care professionals from Greensboro, Mooresville, Durham, Greenville and Cary also work in the clinics when needed.
"We depend on them, because we have so much demand for Saturdays, and they believe in giving back to the community," Harrell says. "It's a win/win for us that they are willing to help our clinics run smoothly."
The ability to collect Body Mass Index (BMI) information will allow the clinic staffs to educate patients and their parents about the risks of being overweight or obese, and to refer children who are found to have weight problems to available local resources.
Clinic providers will work closely with both FirstHealth's Diabetes Self-Management Program and the Montgomery County School Health Centers, as well as with local medical professionals, to provide appropriate assistance.
"If obesity is a problem in North Carolina and the nation, then, locally, our patients would be at risk as well," Harrell says. "The data will tell the story once we start collecting it."
FirstHealth Dental Care Centers are located at 105 Perry Drive, Southern Pines; 423 Wood St., Troy; and 314 Teal Drive, Raeford. For more information, call 692-5111 in Southern Pines; 571-5700 in Troy; and 904-7450 in Raeford.
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