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Jefferson Healthcare Increasing Access to Dental Services

Jefferson Healthcare will address one of the most critical health needs in east Jefferson County by establishing a dental clinic for under and un-insured residents in the community.  The clinic will be co-located in the Olympic Medical Office Building which currently houses primary care and behavioral health, thus offering patients dental services integrated with other aspects of health care.

Jefferson Healthcare, poised to be the first Rural Health Clinic (RHC) in WA State to offer dental services, received $1,000,000 in state capital funding to start the pilot program which will serve an estimated 3,000 children and adults annually in the six-chair office.  Jefferson Healthcare will continue to find additional funding for equipment from grant requests.  Washington Medicaid clients experience great challenges accessing dental health services because the majority of dentists in the state are unable to accept Medicaid insurance.  This innovative solution of integrating dental services into primary care clinics operating as RHCs will leverage the recent changes to the WA State Medicaid program which now allow RHCs to bill an encounter rate rather than a fee-for-service rate for dental services.  Dentists and dental hygienists employed by Jefferson Healthcare will be able to provide dental care integrated with the primary care service line.

“The changes to the WA State Medicaid program will allow for us to provide dental care to the most vulnerable in our community who often are forced to delay care until they go to the emergency department.  By integration the dental services with primary care and behavioral health, we can provide whole person care,” says Jenn Wharton, Chief Ambulatory and Medical Group Officer.

Jefferson County has one of the lowest utilization of dental care services for Medicaid eligible clients in WA State, having ranked 39 out of 39 counties for five years. In 2017, Jefferson County moved up to third last. Since the expansion of Medicaid there are almost 9,000 Jefferson County residents, 2,400 children, who are eligible for Apple Health; of these only 21% receive dental care.  Currently, Jefferson County has no dentists who see adults with Medicaid.

In addition, the economic benefits to the community associated with the project will be great.  The avoidance of expensive and unnecessary emergency department visits, better oral health care for patients with chronic diseases yields better outcomes and lower cost to the patient. A reduction in absenteeism at school and work due to dental pain can be expected and this will add several skill jobs to the community.

This project has been made possible with support from the Washington State Hospital Association and Washington State Legislators. Jefferson Healthcare acknowledges the Washington State District 24 Legislative Delegation, Representatives Tharinger and Chapman, and Senator Van De Wege, for their vision in identifying the need for dental services in Jefferson County and their support in moving this work forward.

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