Dental center opens in Orleans

By:  Brad Usatch
Barton Chronicle

ORLEANS — The Orleans Dental Center is up and running and accepting new patients.

Situated on Union Street behind the site of the now demolished Orleans Family Medicine building, the brand new facility began taking patients on January 3. 

The Orleans Dental Center is now the third dental clinic owned and operated by Northern Counties Health Care (NCHC), which also has dental centers in Hardwick and Island Pond.  Michelle Tetreault, director of dental operations at NCHC, said the project developed swiftly from an initial determination in 2015 that the area was "really lacking in dental care."

The quick progress from an idea to an open door was the result of hard work and a few fortunate breaks.  NCHC applied for a federal grant in January of 2016 with the knowledge that the grant money would not be enough to build, equip, and staff a new facility.  At about the same time, North Country Hospital (NCH) completed a needs assessment that identified oral health care as an underserved area the hospital was mandated to help with, Ms. Tetreault said. 

"We contacted North Country Hospital to let them know we had an opportunity to write a grant to help with this building, but that the grant would fall short," she said.  "They jumped on it."

In the end, North Country came forward with a $100,000 donation that made the project possible. 

The land the building sits on had also been owned by NCH, but was donated to the village when the hospital closed the Orleans Family Medicine building and consolidated operations at the Barton clinic.  Ms. Tetreault said that the village agreed to donate the part of the parcel where the dental center now sits back to NCHC, and to lease back the rest of the land for future overflow parking. 

By the terms of the initial grant proposal, the center hopes to attract 500 new patients in the first year.  Office supervisor Melissa Moffat seems optimistic about reaching that goal.

"The response has been phenomenal," she said.  "We've had a lot of walk-in people who know we're open now, and lot of people calling who live in the area." 

Ms. Moffat said they have also received referrals from both the Barton clinic and the emergency department at NCH.

Ms. Tetreault said that while 500 patients is the minimum requirement for the grant, there is plenty of room to grow beyond that number.

"One dentist on site here should be able to support a patient load of about 2,000 people," she said.

NCHC and its heath care facilities are all federally qualified health centers.  That means the Orleans Dental Center has an open door policy with a commitment to treat any patient regardless of insurance coverage or income.  The center has a sliding scale fee structure, which takes into account both a patient's income and the size of the patient's household, Ms. Tetreault said.  An individual who lives alone and earns less than $23,760 will pay between 15 percent and 75 percent of the base rate.  A patient from a family of four is eligible for a sliding scale discount when household income is less than $48,600. 

Ms. Tetreault cautioned that prices may vary depending on unanticipated complications discovered during treatment, but for purposes of comparison she said the base rate for a routine cleaning for a returning patient is $90, while the cost of a comprehensive initial exam, including X-rays, for an individual who may not have been to the dentist in a while, is $209.  Using the sliding fee schedule, if the patient is from a four-member household with a combined income of $35,000, the costs for the same visits would be $45 for the routine cleaning and $104.50 for the comprehensive exam with X-rays.

Ms. Tetreault has been helping out at the dental center as it gets up and running, but otherwise it operates with a staff of four.  Dr. Ronald St. John is the staff dentist.  He currently splits his time between Orleans and the NCHC dental center in Island Pond.  As the patient list grows, Dr. St. John will transition to work full-time in Orleans.  He has lived everywhere from the Philippines, to Cleveland, Ohio, to Bolivia, but more recently in Florida, where he received his training at the University of Florida College of Dentistry.  He moved to Vermont in 2013 and said he doesn't mind the cold weather a bit.

"After 17 years in Florida, I was tired of the heat, the humidity, and the hurricanes," he said.

Also working at the Orleans Dental Center is Karrie Briggs, a Newport native with 14 years of experience as a registered dental hygienist and another five years as a dental assistant.  Yvette Gonzalez is a dental assistant at the center, and Ms. Moffat supervises administrative duties.

The Orleans Dental Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  

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