Howard County health officials plan to move the county's public health dental clinic from Ellicott City to Columbia as part of a plan to use the private nonprofit Chase Brexton Health Services to expand dental services for uninsured and low-income people.
At a news conference yesterday, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the county health officer, and chase Brexton officials said the agency will take over operations of the county dental clinic in the Normandy Shopping Center on U.S. 40 by July 1. The operation is to move to One Knoll North, the former home of the Columbia Medical Plan, off Thunder Hill Road, by Oct. 1.
"This is a means to sustain a dental program that is funded at a very low level," said Lisette Osborne, county Health Department's nursing director, who oversees the dental program.
Shifting the service to Chase Brexton, Beilenson said, will allow more days of office hours for dental services, and will free two county health workers to try to recruit more elementary school students who need preventive treatment such as tooth sealants that prevent decay.
"What excites me is the ability to really couple public health practices with medical and dental practices," said David Shippee, executive director of Chase Brexton. His agency is committed to helping pay for the change and expansion of services over the first several years, he said. Beilenson said the state is providing two $50,000 renewable grants to get started. The county is adding $15,000 to help buy equipment.
Beilenson said the Columbia location is closer to most clinic patients than the Ellicott City office is, and the county would save the $220,000 a year in lease costs. Beilenson said a nonprofit also would likely have more success getting third-party reimbursement for services than the county has had.
Using Chase Brexton, which is also to be a critical part of the Healthy Howard health access plan for the uninsured, would also help medical patients get dental services, and vice versa, the officials said. Chase Brexton, which already serves low-income, mostly uninsured patients, has no dental component now in Howard County.
"It's exciting to establish an expanded dental home in Howard County," said Dr. Brooks Woodward, a dentist and director of Dental Services for Chase Brexton.
He said he hopes to triple visits to county schools that have significant low-income populations, providing more dental screenings and dispensing more preventive care to children whose parents consent.
"Prevention is really the key to dentistry and long-term health," he said.
Dental care has received much more attention from public officials in the past year or two, since the death of a Prince George's County 12-year-old whose infected tooth was left untreated. Just by looking into children's mouths at school, health officials can often spot cavities or other conditions that need treatment, Brooks said.
Current dental patients will get welcome packets alerting them to the move, and they'll have two months before the move to Columbia to meet the new staff, said Dawn O'Neill, deputy county health officer.