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Aug. 30, 2010
MINNEAPOLIS Ottawa County Health Planning Commission Executive Director Sara Hodges spent almost five years trying to find a dentist to replace Dr. Fred Hargis.
Hargis, the only dentist in Minneapolis, wanted to retire but didn’t want to leave the town without a replacement.
So, Hodges went to work to find one. During a recent interview with the KHI News Service, she described the effort as “the longest, hardest project” her office had ever undertaken.
“One of the things we found out real quick was when you look at the dental students coming out of UMKC, you’ll see that very few of them are coming to places west of Topeka,” Hodges said. “A lot of times, those who do come west have family situations. By that I mean they’re joining an existing practice with family members. That situation didn’t apply to us.”
The commission, she said, was finally able to put together enough supports to draw Dr. Ashley Swisher to Minneapolis. Swisher opened the doors to her new practice on July 15.
“One of the things that was really big in our favor was that Dr. Swisher wanted to be in a rural community,” Hodges said.
“In the end, what happened, I think, was when (Swisher) was ready for us, the community just had everything ready for her.”
The state, Hodges said, should do more to help rural Minneapolis-size communities retain and recruit dentists.
Minneapolis, in north-central Kansas, has about 2,000 residents.
“There ought to be way for these (dentists) coming out of college to go to work, hone their skills, get some of their debt paid down, and then be in a position to eventually take over a practice,” she said. “The way it is now, the state loan-repayment program doesn’t encourage that because the dentist has to be employed by a public or non-profit organization.”
If Minneapolis had lost its dentist, Hodges said, most of the town’s residents probably would have taken their business to Salina. For many, adding a visit to the dentist to the long list of shopping and entertainment reasons to make the 20-mile-trip might not have been a big deal. But Hodges said, for others, it would have made it much more difficult to get dental care.
“For a lot of people — the elderly in particular — they just wouldn’t have gone,” Hodges said. “I think a lot of school children would have stopped receiving dental care also. We have an obligation to protect these vulnerable populations in our community, and when a community loses an essential service it puts these populations at risk.”
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