Negotiations underway to keep UMD dental school clinic open
West Cecil Health, Union Hospital to take over
PERRYVILLE — Negotiations are underway in hopes of preventing the University of Maryland Dental School clinic from closing, potentially leaving many low- income county residents without local dental care.
The nine- year- old facility on Route 40 in Per- r yville is currently operated by the University of Maryland Dental School, with ser vices provided by its students. In 2014, the 26- chair clinic saw more than 3,200 patients.
However, since all its patients are low income, or no income, the program has struggled to be selfsupporting and university officials let the Maryland Legislature know several years ago that they wanted to close the school, Delegate Kevin Hornberger ( R- Cecil) said.
“The last five years they’ve been operating at a deficit. It was their intention to pull out of Perr yville,” he said Wednesday.
But ownership and operation of the clinic may be about to change hands as negotiations are currently underway to keep the program open, he said. The current plan calls for Union Hospital to lease the building, with West Cecil Health Center operating the program.
Dental students would continue to provide
services even after West Cecil, based in Conowingo, takes the reins of the facility, Hornberger added.
While negotiations continue, Hornberger said he and State Sen. Steve Hershey ( R- Upper Shore) have coordinated with Gov. Larry Hogan’s office to keep the center funded until the new arrangement is finalized.
“If it takes more time, we’ll do what we have to do to keep it running. There will be no lapses,” he said. “Of ever yone involved in this process, no one wants to see this go away. No one wants to see a lapse in ser vice.”
Under that new arrangement, the program would have federal financial support, he added.
Dr. Mark Reynolds, dean of the dental school, acknowledged talks are ongoing.
“The University of Maryland School of Dentistry has been engaged in discussions with West Cecil Health Center about their interest in assuming operational oversight of the Perr yville Dental Clinic,” Reynolds said in a prepared statement.
However, Cecil County Councilman Dan Schneckenburger said Wednesday he is “99 percent certain” West Cecil Health Center would take over starting in 2017.
Schneckenburger is confident that 2017 will find West Cecil Health Center, led by Mark Rajkowski, executive director, in charge of the practice.
“I’m thrilled he’s taking over. Mark has done great things in this county,” he said.
When the Conowingo Lions Club championed West Cecil Health Center in 2006, Rajkowski envisioned that the federally funded facility would offer every needed medical service under one roof, including dental care. The 2000 U. S. Census identified the western end of the county as “medically underserved.”
With support from various federal, state and county officials, the center opened in January 2008. While it was open to all, the focus was on those with little or no health insurance. Rajkowski said at that time that he and his board of directors planned to add dental ser vices in the future, along with obstetrics and mental health care. Dental ser vices are offered at their locations in Conowingo and Havre de Grace, but the dental school would be a great addition, Schneckenburger said.
“It is a valuable resource,” he add.
Irma Brager is one of those patients who is relieved that the school is not closing.
“When I heard they were going to close I was beside myself,” the Conowingo woman said.
Brager, who lives on a fixed income, said she needed dental implants a few months ago.
“I was thinking how was I going to pay the $ 6,000 to $ 7,000,” Brager said, noting that a friend told her about the dental school. “I never even knew it existed.”
She canceled her appointment with a private dentist in Bel Air and made an appointment at Perr yville.
“It was a difference of a couple thousand dollars,” she said.
With implants in place at a price she could afford, Brager is ecstatic.
“I came out of there that day ... feeling like something was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I was really thankful.”
Hornberger noted that the university initially set up the program at the behest of the Mar yland Legislature in response to the 2007 death of a child due to poor dental health.
“He died of something that could have been fixed by a simple dental procedure,” he said.
Deamonte Driver died from a brain infection caused by untreated dental disease.
Union Hospital officials told Hornberger they see a great deal of dental disease in the emergency department. Having the dental school connected to the hospital would help those patients, he said.
“It will help the folks that need it most,” he said.
Brager is especially relieved. She has another appointment next week.
The University of Maryland School of Dentistry in Perryville is expected to change hands by the end of the year.