In-school dental clinic starts December in Hayden

Federal grant allows Northwest Colorado Health to expand dental services for children in need

Dentist Reanna Messer examines a patient at the existing Northwest Colorado Health dental clinic in Oak Creek. The nonprofit will expand dental services to appointments inside the Hayden school building, starting Dec. 15.
Northwest Colorado Health/Courtesy photo

School kids in need of a dental cleaning will be able to walk down the hall at the school campus in Hayden for a dentist visit starting Dec. 15. The service is supported by a recent federal grant received by Northwest Colorado Health.

Nonprofit Northwest Colorado Health already provides dental care on a sliding scale basis according to family income at South Routt Medical Center in Oak Creek and at facilities in Steamboat Springs and Craig. The organization is now helping to plug gaps in dental care in the Yampa Valley assisted by an American Rescue Plan grant. The expanded services will start in Hayden, where the only dentist in town does not accept Medicaid patients.

The nonprofit’s dental clinics do accept Medicaid and uninsured patients, although currently there is an extended wait time for adult dental patients for basic preventative care.

“We’ve always had a huge demand for our dental services. The disruption of dental services that we experienced during COVID has amplified that demand,” said Suzi Mariano, Northwest Colorado Health senior director of marketing and development.

Dental services in the Hayden school building will be offered to children, regardless of the ability to pay, provided by the nonprofit’s existing dental staff and mobile equipment. Services offered will include dental screenings and exams, X-rays, fluoride treatments, dental cleanings, referrals to regional dentists as needed and oral hygiene instruction.

The next step in utilizing the grant funds, following results from a parent and staff survey, will be to offer on-site dental services for students inside a Steamboat Springs School District location by mid-January or early February, Mariano said.

A Kidz Dentist with locations in Steamboat and Craig has provided dental services for children with Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, since June 2012 but will discontinue that Dec. 15 at both offices, said Lisa Salyer, practice office manager.

“We are the only private practice dental office in both Routt and Moffat counties that contracts with Medicaid, and with the significant influx of patients, we just couldn’t keep up with the volume with one dentist, Dr. Hank,” Salyer said.

She noted the pediatric practice receives calls daily from adults on Medicaid, whom she redirects to Northwest Colorado Health.

Salyer said the decision was “extremely hard” for the practice owners, who have been providing dental care to lower-income residents, but the overload became even more taxing when the volume of Medicaid patients increased during the pandemic.

The purchase of the dental bus is made possible through a $568,475 grant received in September through the American Rescue Plan Grants for Health Care Infrastructure, which was part of $16,768,678 in funds distributed to 19 Colorado health care organizations to modernize health care centers. One goal of the federal grant funding is to help advance health equity in medically underserved communities across the state.

“After many discussions with local superintendents and assessing regional health access data, we affirmed that there is an unmet need for oral health care services for children in our area,” said Stephanie Einfeld, CEO of Northwest Colorado Health. “This new model of care will break down access barriers for many children and community members in need of dental care.

“Long term, our vision is to use this mobile unit to serve multiple schools and other locations in the region and potentially add medical and behavioral health care as needs are identified by the community,” Einfeld said.

The nonprofit had planned to kick off the expanded dental services via a new mobile clinic based in a 40-foot bus equipped with two patient chairs and X-ray equipment, but current supply chain issues will push the arrival of a specially made bus to late 2022, Mariano said. The nonprofit is issuing a request for proposals this week for the dental clinic estimated to cost about $568,000.

The new mobile dental clinic is a school-based health center, one of 70 comparable centers across Colorado, according to the Colorado Association for School-based Health Care.

According to the 2019 Colorado Health Access Survey, dental visits for young children enrolled in Medicaid are trending lower, which can lead to more untreated tooth decay and even problems with children eating and sleeping.

Student Jesus Nunez Marin visits one of the dental clinics at Northwest Colorado Health.
Courtesy photo


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