New Aspen-area den­tal bus serves low-income pa­tients

The $300K ve­hi­cle of­fers op­tions for 4,500 res­i­dents.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Ja­son Aus­lan­der

Un­til three weeks ago, the 25 per­cent of Pitkin County res­i­dents who live be­low the fed­eral poverty level had lit­tle ac­cess to den­tal care.

That’s be­cause no den­tists in the Roar­ing Fork Val­ley ac­cept Med­i­caid or Medi­care, said Garry Schalla, de­vel­op­ment direc­tor for Moun­tain Fam­ily Health Cen­ters, which pro­vides health care to low-income res­i­dents.

But as of March 6, the ap­prox­i­mately 4,500 Pitkin County res­i­dents be­low the poverty level have a den­tal care op­tion at the El Jebel Com­mu­nity Cen­ter park­ing lot. That’s where Moun­tain Fam­ily Health has parked its new $300,000 mo­bile den­tal health care clinic for the next 18 months or so. “The re­sponse has been over­whelm­ing,” Schalla said. “In three weeks, we have 80 new pa­tients.”

The den­tal bus — pur­chased mostly with fed­eral grant money, though local donors chipped in, too — fea­tures a wait­ing room and two den­tal chairs, he said. Ser­vices at the bus in­clude Xrays, fill­ing small cav­i­ties, teeth clean­ing and other ba­sic ser­vices, Schalla said. More com­pli­cated cases will be re­ferred to Moun­tain Fam­ily Health’s den­tal clinic in Ri­fle, he said.

The bus will be staffed by a den­tist on Mon­days and Tues­days and a hy­gien­ist on Fri­days un­til May, when a full-time den­tist is sched­uled to start, Schalla said. Af­ter that, the den­tal bus will be open Mon­day through Fri­day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., he said.

The bus will be parked at the El Jebel Com­mu­nity Cen­ter un­til Pitkin County’s new build­ing in Aspen is fin­ished, prob­a­bly around sum­mer 2018, Schalla said. Af­ter county work­ers move out of their tem­po­rary of­fices in the Stub­bies Bar build­ing in Basalt, Moun­tain Fam­ily Health will move in and in­clude a fully staffed den­tal clinic in the 7,000square-foot fa­cil­ity it will then oc­cupy, he said.

At that point, the den­tal bus will be­come fully mo­bile and be able to pro­vide ser­vices di­rectly to schools, re­tire­ment homes and other places den­tal care is needed through­out the Roar­ing Fork Val­ley, Schalla said.

“It’s re­ally an im­por­tant fac­tor for den­tal health in the val­ley,” he said. “It’s re­ally been the per­fect so­lu­tion for the short-term and long-term fu­ture.”

Den­tal health is an im­por­tant fac­tor in over­all health, Schalla said.

“Oral health is highly over­looked,” he said. “The big­gest rea­son kids miss school is oral health prob­lems. It’s re­ally a big, big deal.”

Pitkin County Man­ager Jon Pea­cock said den­tal health is one of the big­gest rea­sons the county be­gan part­ner­ing with Aspen Val­ley Hospi­tal and Moun­tain Fam­ily Health Cen­ters to pro­vide bet­ter over­all health care to poor res­i­dents.

“Of­ten, peo­ple don’t deal with den­tal is­sues un­til there’s an emer­gency,” Pea­cock said. “We con­sider that ac­cess to be a re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant com­po­nent of con­trol­ling (health care) costs in the val­ley.”

Those emer­gen­cies are of­ten taken care of in emer­gency rooms, which is the most ex­pen­sive and least ef­fec­tive way to man­age health care, he said.

The den­tal bus will take walkins, though pa­tients might have to wait and are en­cour­aged to call Moun­tain Fam­ily Health and make an ap­point­ment, Schalla said.

Moun­tain Fam­ily Health Cen­ter’s new mo­bile den­tal health clinic will be able to take care of ba­sic oral health needs for low-income Roar­ing Fork Val­ley res­i­dents. Pro­vided by The Aspen Times

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