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South Boston Council backs kids’ dental clinic

SoVaNow.com / March 17, 2011
South Boston Town Council threw its support behind a grant application to win $700,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money for a new dental clinic earlier this week.

An initiative of Halifax Regional Hospital, the clinic would serve primarily poor children in Halifax, Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties and would be based at the expanded Halifax Primary Care clinic run by the hospital off Hamilton Boulevard.

In gathering data, “It was easy to document,” said Deborah Gosney of the Southside Planning District. “It’s clear it was a need.”

Not only are Halifax and three of four surrounding counties in a dentist-shortage area, of the two local dentists who participate with Medicaid and the Smiles for Children program, one doesn’t accept new patients, and the other has a waiting list.

The total cost of the clinic, which includes the building plus equipment, is $1.2 million.

The balance of the funding will come from the hospital system, private foundations and possibly the Tobacco Commission. The town is not required to put up any money, said Town Manager Ted Daniel.

Patients would pay $35 for each appointment to reduce no-shows.

Council held a public hearing on the grant application at its Monday meeting.

Sylvia Briggs-Judkins, who served on a planning panel for the clinic and is the school nurse coordinator for the local school system, called untreated dental problems in poor children “like a silent epidemic in this county” that’s “getting progressively worse.”

Poor children go years without seeing a dentist, she said.

Dr. William Bell, director of emergency services at the hospital, said, “These children have no place to go.”

Several speakers mentioned referring patients as far away as Richmond but parents having trouble getting off work or transporting them there.

Troy Wilkerson, nurse manager of the hospital’s emergency department, said many people come to the emergency room for dental treatment — and there are no dentists there.

Dr. James Priest, an oral surgeon, told council, “There’s definitely a need here.”

Dr. Wayne Adams, who began a dentistry practice here in 1968, said he didn’t think recruiting dentists would be a problem. Hospital CFO Stuart Nelson pointed to the incentives of working at the clinic, which include not having to run one’s own business and loan assistance.

The town hopes to hear whether the grant is funded in July.

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