BURLINGTON, Vt., April 25 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today met with health care providers to discuss the future of community health centers, which provide primary care, dental care, low-cost prescription drugs and mental health counseling to more than 110,000 Vermonters.
Sanders emphasized that the number of Vermonters receiving dental care through the centers has grown to roughly 20,000 people. “One of the areas that I have long-worried about is dental access in Vermont. The reality is thousands of Vermont children and adults have been unable to obtain the dental care they need,” said Sanders, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health Care. “While we still have a long way to go, there is no question that we are making real progress.”
In 2002, for example, there was just one community health center dental practice in Vermont. The Island Pond location served about 1,000 Vermonters. This year, an eighth dental practice, located at the community health center in Morrisville, further broadened the reach of the dental network that has grown to more than 19,000 Vermonters. A ninth dental practice will be opening soon in Ludlow. Aside from the initial Island Pond location, dental services are available in the health centers in Hardwick, Plainfield, Richford, Rutland, and the two sites in Burlington.
Sanders also emphasized the successes in bringing dental services into Vermont’s schools. “In 2002, there was one school-based dental program in Bennington serving about 150 students,” he said. “Today, Vermont has four school-based dental programs and a dental van program that serve more than 2,200 students.”
The school-based programs are in Bennington, Burlington, Swanton, and Tunbridge. The dental clinic opened by the Franklin County community health center at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle and High School in Swanton is unique because it is open to the community -- not just students.
“I am very happy to report that, in Vermont, over the last nine years, we have made some extraordinary progress in expanding primary health care access in our state through the growth of federal qualified community health centers,” said Sanders.
The reach of the community health care centers has been greatly expanded during the last decade. Now, roughly one in five Vermonters obtain care through the network of community health centers in the state.
Despite pressure to cut funds in Washington, Sanders said there is broad understanding that investing in community health centers is a good use of funds, in part, because preventive care avoids expensive trips to the emergency room. “I think a lot of Republicans understand that when you put money into health centers, you’re saving money,” Sanders said.
In 2002, there were two federally qualified health care centers in Vermont, in Burlington and the Northeast Kingdom. Combined, those two centers had six sites serving about 14,000 Vermonters. Today, there are eight community health centers organizations with 40 satellite sites that serve more than 110,000 Vermonters.
Open to everyone, the centers care for patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, as well as those who have no insurance. Payments are on a sliding scale, so people with low or moderate incomes can afford the services.
The federally qualified health centers, which have been championed by Sanders, have been greatly expanded in Vermont in recent years. Following the creation of health centers in Burlington and the Northeast Kindgom were: NoTCH in Franklin County in 2002; four years later, in 2006, CHCs of Rutland Region and Little Rivers Health Care in Bradford were established; the Plainfield Health Center was created the following year in 2007; Community Health Services of Lamoille Valley was established in 2008; and Springfield Medical Systems opened in 2009.