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Low-income dental center planned

January 08, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A dental center focused on improving oral health care access, particularly for Eastern Panhandle children in low-income families, could begin treating patients by October, according to leaders of a multiprong effort to resolve a dire need for such services.

The Healthy Smiles Dental Center, a partnership between Healthy Smiles of the Eastern Panhandle Inc., and Shenandoah Valley Medical System Inc., is expected to operate in about 2,500 square feet of space in a commercial building at the intersection of Warm Springs Avenue and U.S. 11 (Williamsport Pike) north of Martinsburg.

"We're trying to get into the building on Aug. 1," oral surgeon W. Dean Russell told the Berkeley County Commission on Thursday.

Commissioners unanimously endorsed having a letter of support for the dental center accompany a federal grant application for $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration.

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Russell said more than $100,000 had been raised for the center's start-up and a second $90,000 grant application by the nonprofit group is pending with the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

In a five-page project summary provided to the Commission, Healthy Smiles of the Eastern Panhandle said it would need to raise $406,500 over the next three years to establish the clinic and sustain operations and that the organization's board set a "milestone" of having $200,000 on hand no later than July 31, 2009, to occupy the new clinic by Aug. 1.

Because of the population growth in the Eastern Panhandle, Russell told commissioners that the region "could easily use another dozen" dentists and he added there is a particular need for pediatric dentists.

The dental center is the fourth prong of an effort by the Healthy Smiles Partnership, which was formed as a regional task force in February 2006 to address the Eastern Panhandle's need for oral health care. More than 10,000 children in the region were not receiving oral health care, according to a 2003 report.

By the end of 2006, the task force and West Virginia University Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center's Eastern Division were able to announce a partnership to provide education outreach programs that have were presented to more than 5,000 people in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties in the first year.

Russell said more than 1,500 children have been seen by Lisa Dunn, who was hired by WVU to coordinate prevention and intervention oral health screening programs at area schools.

Last year, hundreds of volunteers and oral health professionals provided more than $500,000 in dental services to area residents at no charge at the first Mission of Mercy (MOM) project in West Virginia, Russell said.

A second, two-day MOM event at Hedgesville High School has been scheduled for June 26 and 27, and another MOM is being planned for Parkersburg, W.Va., he said.

"Hopefully, you would get to a point where you didn't have to have a MOM," Russell said of efforts to open the dental center.

Envisioned to be staffed with a dentist and two hygienists, the dental center's target population is Medicaid and CHIP-eligible children and their families, but it will accept patients who have insurance and those who can pay based on a sliding scale to sustain operations.

Russell said similar facilities have needed between three and five years to be sustainable.

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