SWANTON, Vt., Jan. 13 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today visited a school dental clinic at Missisquoi Valley Union High School. The clinic, run by the Northern Tier Community Health Center, serves students and others in this Franklin County community.
“One of the serious health issues in Vermont, and one that I have focused on for a number of years, is the lack of dental care access. While we still have a long way to go, we are making some real progress,” Sanders said.
The dental clinic is a collaboration of the school district and the community health center. “This is a perfect example of what federal seed money can accomplish when combined with the commitment of local people to address critical problems. I am proud to have obtained $115,000 in federal funds to make this facility possible,” Sanders said.
The most unique feature of this school-based dental clinic is that it is open not just to students, but to the entire community. “This is a first for Vermont and maybe the nation,” Sanders said.
In the four months since the clinic opened about 300 patients have been treated – half were students and half were community residents. About 80 percent of the patients were either uninsured or on Medicaid and could not obtain care elsewhere.
The senator commended the school and the health center for creating the two-chair clinic. As demand grows, so will the staffing and the hours of service.
Vermont’s first school-based dental program has been operated for the past decade in Bennington. By the end of the last school year, dental clinics had opened at schools in Burlington, and Tunbridge. The clinics provided dental services to 1,720 children who did not have access to a private dentist.
A similar increase in dental services has occurred at Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout Vermont. In 2000, there were only two dental practices at community health centers in Island Pond and Plainfield. Today, there are six more dental practices at FQHC’s in Hardwick, Richford, Rutland, Morrisville, and at two locations in Burlington. In just the past 5 years, the number of Vermonters who have gained access to dental care from community health centers has more than doubled.
Health centers provided dental care to about 9,500 Vermonters in 2004. Now, over 20,000 Vermonters obtain dental care at health centers. Dental visits went from 22,000 to 48,000. The number of dentists working at health centers went from five to 12 in five years. Another FQHC-run dental clinic will open this year in Ludlow.
In addition to dental services, community health centers provide affordable primary care, low-cost prescription medicine and mental health counseling
A Sanders provision in the new national health care law provides $11 billion over the next five years to double the number of health centers, from 7,500 to 15,000, and to increase the number of patients treated from 20 million to 40 million. The centers provide care to all patients and offer discounted fees for people with low incomes.
After visiting the dental clinic, Sanders’ schedule included stops at the St. Albans production facility of Barry Callebaut, one of the largest chocolate companies in the world; lunch with St. Albans seniors; a visit to the Champlain Island Parent Child Center in South Hero; and a stop at the town’s Folsom School for which Sanders secured federal support for an educational solar installation.