Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6 p.m. June 16.
Kansas health centers will receive more than $2.2 million to improve access to oral health care — funding that is desperately needed, according to a Kansas dental health advocate.
The Health Resources and Services Administration on Thursday announced $156 million in grants to health centers in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The grants will allow the health centers to boost their dental staffs by about 1,600 employees and treat 785,000 more patients. The health centers serve patients regardless of their ability to pay for services.
“Oral health is an important part of our overall physical health and well-being,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a news release. “The funding we are awarding will reduce barriers to quality dental care for hundreds of thousands of Americans by bringing new oral health providers to health centers across the country.”
The funding will be particularly important in Kansas because the state has offered fewer grants to support oral health care for low-income people, said Tanya Dorf Brunner, executive director of Oral Health Kansas.
“In the last few years, the state funding for these dental services has been decreasing,” she said.
Health centers, including those that received grants, have been a particularly important source of dental care because few dentists accept Medicaid, Dorf Brunner said. That situation may get worse when Medicaid reimbursements are cut 4 percent starting in July, she said.
Rachel Hartford, spokeswoman for Heartland Medical Clinic in Lawrence, said its $350,000 grant will pay to hire a dentist, a hygienist and two assistants. They expect to serve about 1,386 patients in the first year, she said.
Previously, Heartland would refer patients to Douglas County Dental Clinic, Hartford said, but the need was greater than the number of appointments available.
Jason Wesco, chief operations officer for Pittsburg-based Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, said the center intends to use its $525,000 grant to help provide about 4,200 dental visits in the first year and 5,400 visits in the second year.
The center will set up a full dental clinic at its main Pittsburg location and hire a dentist, two hygienists, two assistants and possibly a part-time dentist and a care coordinator, he said.
“Eventually we’ll have full-time (dental services) and plan to offer hours on Saturday too,” he said.
The goal is to integrate dental services with other types of medical care, Wesco said. One of the dental hygienists will work as an educator, talking with pregnant women about how to protect their babies’ oral health and with diabetes patients about their risk of gum disease, he said.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to make sure we don’t miss opportunities” to reach patients, he said.
Providing oral health instruction and care is particularly important for patients with chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes, Dorf Brunner said.
“Chronic disease exacerbate oral health problems and vice versa,” she said. “It’s not a cosmetic thing.”
Missouri received $7.5 million in grants for 20 clinics, including three based in Kansas City.
Kansas grant winners and amounts:
- Center for Health and Wellness/HealthCore, Wichita, $350,000.
- Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Pittsburg, $525,000.
- Flint Hills Community Health Center, Emporia, $350,000.
- Heartland Medical Clinic, Lawrence, $350,000.
- Prairiestar Health Center, Hutchinson, $350,000.
- Salina Health Education Foundation, Salina, $286,420.
Missouri grant winners and amounts:
- Advocates for a Healthy Community, Springfield, $350,000.
- Betty Jean Kerr People’s Health Centers, St. Louis, $350,000.
- Big Springs Medical Association, Ellington, $350,000.
- Community Treatment Incorporated, Festus, $350,000.
- Compass Health, Clinton, $350,000.
- Douglas County Public Health Services Group, Ava, $350,000.
- Family Health Center of Boone County, Columbia, $350,000.
- Great Mines Health Center, Potosi, $525,000.
- Health Care Coalition of Lafayette County, Waverly, $350,000.
- Kansas City Care Clinic, Kansas City, $350,000.
- Myrtle Hilliard Davis Comprehensive Health Centers, St. Louis, $302,564.
- Northwest Health Services, St. Joseph, $350,000.
- Ozark Tri-County Health Care Consortium, Neosho, $350,000.
- Ozarks Resource Group, Hermitage, $350,000.
- Preferred Family Healthcare, Kirksville, $350,000.
- Regional Health Care Clinic, Sedalia, $525,000.
- Richland Medical Center, Richland, $350,000.
- Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, Kansas City, $340,022.
- Swope Health Services, Kansas City, $350,000.
- South Central Missouri Community Health Center, Rolla, $525,000.