People struggling to make ends meet and lacking health insurance that covers dentistry have a new option with the restructuring of Cortez Dental Care.
A $100,000 grant from Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation to the Frontier Community Health Association, formerly the Dolores County Health Association, has allowed Cortez Dental Care, 101 S. Maple St., to offer its services to more low-income patients.
Cortez Dental Care, now called Frontier Community Health Clinic, joins the clinic also operated by Frontier Community Health Association in Dove Creek.
“We want to help underserved clients, people who are on Medicaid, individuals who don’t have insurance or are underinsured,” said Lincoln Pherson, executive director of the Frontier Community Health Association. “We’ll provide them with options that are much more affordable than other sources.”
The grant allows Frontier Community Health to offer a discounted sliding fee for services for people who make as much as 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Based on the sliding scale, people who make:
100% to 117% of the federal poverty level pay 20% of the bill.118% to 159% pay 35% of the bill.160% to 185% pay 50% of the bill.186% to 200% pay 75% of the bill.The current federal poverty level for a family of four is $25,750.
Pherson said Frontier wanted to open a clinic in Cortez because 60% of all patients it was seeing in its Dove Creek clinic come from Cortez.
“We realized we were creating a new barrier for people – transportation to the clinic,” he said.
Pherson said the grant has also allowed the Cortez clinic to hire a second dental assistant and a second receptionist.
Dr. Joseph Vreeken led Cortez Dental Care since 2011, and he remains at the helm at Frontier Community’s clinic in Cortez, where he’s seeing all his existing patients in addition to the new low-income patients.
“We still take private insurance. This hasn’t changed the way we practice,” Vreeken said. “We kept my name on the door so my patients didn’t think I left town, and the sliding fee scale allows us to see more people and makes care very affordable.”
Vreeken said he has an interest in public health and started working in a public health clinic in 2002 in Montezuma Creek, Utah.
Most of the new patients Vreeken has seen since the new arrangement with Frontier Community Health began on Jan. 7, have been for emergency services – helping people who have been struggling with tooth pain for years but were financially unable to address their oral health issues.
“We’ve been busy,” Vreeken said. “We’re helping people who had difficulty getting in elsewhere, and we try to get to people in quickly.”
Cherith Flowerday, foundation program officer for Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation, said the organization uses its grants to help areas that struggle to serve underserved populations.
In analyzing grant applications, Montezuma County proved to be among the most needy areas in the state where access to dental services by low-income individuals was lacking.
In the most recent round of grants, Delta Dental provide a total of $3.4 million to 29 Colorado nonprofit clinics with a goal of providing increased access to oral health medicine to low-income patients.
Vreeken said he’s encouraged that the new structure of his practice allows him to see more people.
“There’s always a need for these services. Tooth pain is so horrific,” he said.