PLAINFIELD, Vt., August 11 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today welcomed the opening of expanded dental care services at The Health Center here as part of a push for accessible, affordable dental care throughout Vermont.
"Many people in Vermont need access to affordable, good-quality dental care and we're beginning to make some progress," Sanders said at the community health center, which also provides primary health care, low-cost prescription drugs and mental health counseling.
Part of a broader effort to improve dental care across the state, the expanded facility at Plainfield will allow the center to provide dental care to roughly 5,000 patients - an increase from 4,000 served now. The center has grown from five to 14 dental chairs housed in a building that was expanded this year using $400,000 in economic stimulus funding and $135,000 in federal funds Sanders secured for dental equipment.
Within the coming year, dental facilities are expected to open at health centers in Morrisville and Ludlow - in addition to new school-based programs in Swanton and in Rutland County.
"When we talk about health care, we too often ignore dental care," Sanders said. "Lack of access to dental care is a huge problem in this country and a very serious problem in Vermont."
In just the past five years, the number of Vermonters with access to dental care through health centers has doubled from 9,500 in 2004 to 19,000 in 2009. In 2000, there were only two dental practices at health centers and only one school-based dental clinic. Today, there are seven dental practices at health centers and three school-based programs. In addition, Plainfield operates a dental van that travels to schools around northern Vermont.
Sanders, a member of the Senate health committee, successfully fought to include major investments in cost-saving community health centers in both the new health care law and last year's economic stimulus package. The stimulus package included $2 billion nationally for health centers, including $21 million for Vermont. Sanders, along with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), was the chief backer of a provision in the new health care law to double the number of centers through an investment of $11 billion nationwide.
In Vermont, the number of Federally Qualified Health Centers has grown from two to eight centers in recent years. Altogether, the centers serve 108,000 patients at 40 satellite offices. Sanders hopes two new centers will be added soon in Addison and Bennington counties.