KHI News Service

Dentist shortage proposal not funded in Regents’ recommended budget

By Phil Cauthon | September 20, 2012

Proposals for dealing with the state's dentist shortage did not make the cut today when the Kansas Board of Regents approved recommending a $47 million budget increase for state universities.

An oral health task force appointed by the board recommended at the Regents' June meeting:

• Immediately secure at least 10 to 20 seats at dental schools in surrounding states for Kansas students who agree to practice in rural and other underserved areas of the state after they graduate. The annual cost of 25 seats is estimated at $800,000.

• Begin long-term planning for Kansas' first dental school. The projected cost of a new dental school is $58 million to build and $19.5 million to operate annually, according to a task force estimate.

Kansas Board of Regents chair Tim Emert (left) and Andy Tompkins, Regents chief executive.

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Board chair Tim Emert said that funds are clearly not available to begin a dental school — and temporarily securing seats from other schools came at the expense of other programs.

"We have to cut back to very limited initiatives, and that really didn't make the cut," Emert said.

"We have problems getting dentists in rural areas, there's no doubt about that," he said. "But it's the old issue of more money. How do you get the best bang for the buck?"

He said the board decided instead to recommend $1.2 million for an advanced training program for dentists at Wichita State University.

"That program is up and going and it's operational," Emert said. "We need for the people who come out of that program, though, to focus more on coming to rural Kansas or staying in rural Kansas."

"I think the problem down there is so many of the people are from Oklahoma and you know they're going to go home. We need to figure out a mechanism to keep them here, or give that additional education to people who are here," Emert said.

With additional funding, the WSU program would be expanded from one to two years. In the second year, dentists would rotate through satellite clinics in or near designated underserved areas of the state, said Peter Cohen, dean of WSU's College of Health Professions.

"Once established, the two-year model will provide ongoing, consistent oral health services as dentist residents are rotated through these rural satellite clinics. This two-year model is anticipated to graduate approximately 10 residents per year," Cohen told KHI News Service.

At least 57,000 Kansans live in "dental deserts," where the closest dental office is at least a half-hour drive from the resident's home, according to a report published last fall. Of the state's 105 counties, 93 face deeper dental workforce shortages as dentists retire.

Two-thirds of the state's dentists come from the 20 seats currently secured for Kansas dental students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, but no additional seats are available.

The task force had recommended securing seats at dental schools at the University of Nebraska, Creighton University, the University of Oklahoma and a new school being built in Kirksville, Mo.

The Regents' governance committee plans to take up the task force proposals again at its Oct. 17 meeting.

The board's budget recommendation will be sent to Gov. Sam Brownback for consideration in crafting his own budget proposal for the legislature.

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