Dentists welcome news of clinic's financing
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writer
Volunteer Hawai'i dentists are applauding the state's announcement that it will provide another subsidy to keep afloat the Queen's Medical Center dental clinic, which serves disabled and needy patients as well as those requiring hospital-level care.
"The heroes in this situation are the dentists who have volunteered their time to support this clinic for over 40 years," said state Health Director Bruce Anderson, who worked out the agreement with Queen's chief operating officer Dan Jessop. "The state's commitment recognizes the critical services that the clinic is providing through 44 volunteer dentists."
The clinic is still operating on the $305,000 that the state provided last year to take operations through June 2002. Now another $200,000 has been promised for the following fiscal year, to take the clinic through June 2003.
The program, called the Queen's Dental Residency Program, offers training each year for two or three dental residents. It handles 3,500 to 4,000 patient visits a year. Its wide variety of patients include many on Medicaid, the indigent, and those who need general anesthesia for complex oral surgery. The residents are trained in critical care; this is the only post-graduate dental training in the state.
Anderson said there were 30 patients last year with severe medical conditions that only the Queen's clinic could treat. If the clinic were to shut down, he said, such patients would need to fly to the Mainland to be treated. That cost alone could amount to $750,000.
"These are people who need real constructive work, not the regular dental work," Jessop said. "The skill level required in that dental clinic is very high."
The patients treated by the clinic include some with developmental disabilities who may also need behavior management, as well as medically fragile individuals at risk for stroke or heart failure.
The program also handles the majority of cases statewide of those with severe, life-threatening oral infections and those who have suffered oral/facial trauma. Anderson said that if the program closed, there would be no other place in Hawai'i for hospital dentistry services for such patients.
Jessop said Queen's could no longer afford to subsidize the clinic on its own and would have had to close it down if the state had not stepped in. But the hospital will continue to provide $20,000 to $30,000 annually for the program, as well as staff support and supplies.
The $200,000 will be inserted into the state budget as a line item in next year's session, Anderson said.
Gov. Ben Cayetano has given his full support.
"It serves a critical population in our community," Cayetano said, "and I am glad the program will remain open."