With only one Medicaid provider serving low-income residents for comprehensive dental care in the Yampa Valley, wait times for regular adult preventive care appointments can reach six months.
The only Medicaid dental practice with dentists on staff in Routt and Moffat counties is the nonprofit Northwest Colorado Health. The organization is taking several steps to reduce wait times for appointments.
According to the agency, the Moffat County dental site, Craig Community Health Center at 745 Russell St. in downtown Craig, provides dental services three days a week and is staffed by a dental hygienist. In 2021, a representative said, the clinic saw 411 patients. Among them, 179 were under the age of 18.
With federal grants, the nonprofit has ordered a mobile dental bus for about $568,000 that is expected to arrive in January 2023, said Suzi Mariano, senior director of marketing and development for Northwest Colorado Health.
Additionally, construction is underway at the Northwest Colorado Health headquarters in Steamboat Springs, adjacent to the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, to create 890 square feet of additional space to add three new dental chairs. The Steamboat expansion is expected to be completed by the end of the summer and will be open four days a week. The renovation costs $432,000, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act Funding for Health Centers.
“Our wait time target for pediatric and adult patients when we are fully staffed and fully operational in all clinics would be to get acute patients within 24 business hours and routine care within 30 days” , said Mariano.
In order to be fully staffed, the nonprofit needs to hire a third full-time dentist, four dental assistants and two dental hygienists at a time when hiring healthcare workers is tough at resorts. rural resorts where housing prices are rising.
Northwest Colorado Health dental clinics hold one to two emergency visits each day, and current wait times include six to eight weeks for pediatric appointments, one to seven days for emergency appointments for adults and six months for preventive appointments for adults. Mariano said the agency prioritizes emergencies, then routine pediatric preventive care for children in their formative years.
“We have to take care of the people who need it the most first, emergencies and children,” Mariano said. “When you have limited resources, you have to prioritize.
“Over the years, we have added additional dental services in various clinics as the needs of the community have increased dramatically. This is due to the lack of providers accepting Medicaid and uninsured patients, as well as pent-up demand due to COVID complications.
For example, the association treated 2,196 dental patients in 2018 and 2,243 in 2019. In 2021, the association treated 2,710 total dental patients, including 1,664 in Craig, 481 in Steamboat, and 565 in Oak Creek.
Currently in the Yampa Valley, only one private dental hygiene provider is accepting Medicaid patients, according to multiple listings and sources. Shelly Barnes-Camilletti, longtime professional dental hygienist, at Rocky Mountain Dental Hygiene at Steamboat stepped in to help in 2015. She provides hygiene and X-rays for children and adult Medicaid patients, and her practice has a month-long wait time for appointments.
“There aren’t many options for Medicaid dental care in all of western Colorado,” Barnes-Camilletti said, noting that other Medicaid dental offices are located in Silverthorne or Grand Junction.
The hygienist and former basketball coach at Hayden said her players asked her if she could take care of their teeth at the dental offices where she worked.
“I saw children unable to do anything with their health. I felt like I needed to help,” Barnes-Camilletti said.
Dentist Madeline Connick, who lives in Steamboat and works at the Northwest Colorado Health dental clinic in Craig, said serving low-income patients was exactly what she wanted to do after training in similar dental clinic rotations. while studying at the University of Michigan.
“You feel good about yourself at the end of the day, especially on the days when you can help someone who really had no other options and you can make it a positive experience for them,” said Connick, who started at Northwest Colorado Health in the fall of 2019. “Almost every week I see someone who has avoided care or been unable to get care for years, and give them no- what a plan or a way forward gives them a sense of empowerment.”
The dentist said the high cost of offices, housing and salaries in rural resort areas makes it difficult for private dental practices to accept Medicaid patients given the reduced reimbursements provided compared to other insurance plans. .
According to the American Dental Association‘s Health Policy Institute, Colorado’s 2020 Medicaid reimbursements for children’s dental care paid 55% compared to private insurance and 56% for adults. The average Medicaid reimbursement rate nationwide was 61% for children’s services and 53% for adult care, compared to private insurance.
Right now, hiring is a key pinch point locally.
“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to find someone here for these types of support jobs, due to the cost of living and housing issues, and to consider training people from scratch is very expensive. and takes a long time,” Connick said.