BRATTLEBORO—While it might not be ready for the official ribbon cutting, progress on the Windham County Dental Center is ahead of schedule.
According to United Way of Windham County Executive Director Carmen Derby, the joint project of the United Way of Windham County and Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is gearing up to open at 375 Canal St.
“Not a lot is happening right now,” she said. “But a lot will happen soon.”
The center will be open to all clients who live or work in Windham County. The center will also accept clients who self pay, have private insurance, or are insured under Vermont Medicaid.
When asked what fees or rates the center will charge, Derby said the UWWC is still developing its payment structure.
“The ultimate goal is to provide affordable dental care, and that’s going to look different for different people,” she said.
According to the most recent Vermont Health Care Expenditure Analysis Report (VHCEA) submitted to the Green Mountain Care Board, almost 90 percent of what Vermonters pay for dental care is out-of-pocket. Cost is one of the reasons adults in the area frequently cite as a reason for delaying routine dental care.
In response to a need for adult dental care, the UWWC created an annual Adult Dental Care Day. For eight years, the all-day event offers people without insurance — or the ability to pay — access to a dentist.
In 2018, 71 medical and non-medical volunteers provided care to more than 100 Windham County residents. According to UWWC, more than $53,500 of free dental care was provided by Connecticut Valley Oral Surgery Associates, Deerfield Valley Dental Care, Dental Health, Estey Dental Center, Professional Dental Care, Suzanne West D.M.D., and West River Family Dental.
Despite the accomplishments of Adult Dental Care Day, Derby explained that some patients needed more care than the dentists could complete in one day.
In collecting data for the event, Derby said UWWC staff found that, for every client the event served, there were several family members who also needed care.
“We regularly receive calls from people looking for care,” Derby said. “Waiting for one day a year was not the answer.”
Birth of a dental center
Approximately two years ago, said Derby, UWWC and its partners started to ask, “What would it look like for members of our community to receive regular dental care?”
From these conversations, a center was born.
Derby explained that BMH has provided space on Canal Street for the center and hired Robert Ruhl D.M.D. as the center’s primary dentist. The UWWC will then contract with the hospital for Ruhl’s services, she said.
She said that given how dental health can affect a person’s medical health and vise versa, the partnership between the Windham County Dental Center and the hospital is crucial. Derby said the center staff and BMH staff will be able to refer patients to one another.
The center is a great example of what government, nonprofits, for-profits, and individual funders can accomplish when they collaborate, Derby said.
Derby credited the Brattleboro Retreat, the town of Brattleboro, the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, and Vermont Department of Health as a few of the many organizations that made the clinic possible.
The collaboration didn’t stop there, said Derby.
GPI Construction, A.L. Tyler & Sons, Inc, Southern Vermont Telephone, and Alliance Mechanical donated their services to make the space ready for the clinic. Horizon Dental donated equipment. Brattleboro Rotary and Derby Building and Woodwork helped with finishing touches, she said.
The project so far has received $270,000 in donations, Derby said. The bulk of the funding has come from an individual and from the Thomas Thompson Trust.
BMH President and CEO Steven R. Gordon said that UWWC staff “have done all the heavy lifting on this project.”
“It’s been a phenomenal community endeavor,” he said. “And the focus of it is to serve the Medicaid adults in our community that have very limited access to preventative dental care.”