FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - A longtime Coconino County dental clinic that is the only one of its kind in the state will shut its doors this fall.
The clinic will close Sept. 30, the last day of work for resigning public health dentist Thomas Cardwell. The county Board of Supervisors decided last week that it was no longer feasible to keep operating the clinic after Cardwell’s departure.
Coconino County Supervisor Liz Archuleta said it was not an easy choice to make.
“I am convinced there is a tremendous need out there for dental clinic services. That is why it is difficult for me to break away from the more historical mode (of the dental clinic),” Archuleta said during a meeting Tuesday.
Officials say the costs of operation, low turnout and difficulty in recruiting dentists are among the reasons for the decision, according to the Arizona Daily Sun (https://bit.ly/1NUQzJk ).
The clinic charges patients on a sliding fee scale based on their income. According to the county, the clinic seldom got paid or reimbursed the full cost of the service provided.
Only 850 people have visited the facility in the last 18 months. Only 50 to 60 percent of people who made appointments actually followed through, according to county public health services manager Denise Burley.
The county will instead transition to a voucher system to help eligible residents receive preventive and emergency services elsewhere. But it may take beyond Sept. 30 to figure out how such a system will work.
Burley said the county needs to partner with various providers such as Northern Arizona University’s Dental Hygiene Clinic, and vouchers may not cover all services such as dentures and filling replacements.
One advantage of a new voucher system would be that patients could get dental care outside of Flagstaff in communities such as Williams or Page. County officials are also seeking to expand on dental care programs for children up to elementary school age.
For many area dentists, working at the clinic was practically a rite of passage. Dentist Bryan Shanahan served on a committee that tried to keep the clinic going.
“If you talk to local dentists in Flagstaff, a lot of us have worked in the county dental clinic and a lot of us wanted it to be saved,” Shanahan said.
Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, https://www.azdailysun.com/
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