A new dental clinic slated for Squirrel Hill will serve patients that have trouble finding proper dental care, officials close to the project said.
Last week, the Squirrel Hill Health Center became one of 85 community health centers across the country — and the only one in Pittsburgh — to receive a grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build the dental center. The SHHC will use the $792,700 grant to renovate an existing site to house the facility.
President Obama announced this round of grants at a press conference in Washington.
“In a million years we did not think we were going to get it,” said Susan Friedberg Kalson, CEO of the health center. “It was such a long shot and we knew what the competition was going to be like.”
There are more than 1,200 community health centers nationwide.
The clinic will open at a separate site near the SHHC clinic at Weinberg Village. Kalson said negotiations for the site are still ongoing, but the SHHC plans to move some of its administrative staff there when it opens.
The new clinic will provide basic dental care to an underinsured or uninsured clientele.
“A lot of people don’t have dental insurance,” Kalson said. “Medicare doesn’t provide it; people who have Medicaid get dental coverage but most dentists don’t accept it as it doesn’t pay well.”
She estimated that 40 percent of the SHHC’s current patients don’t have access to good dental care. “For immigrant patients, there’s almost no access,” she said.
The few dental clinics that operate in Pittsburgh — at Catholic Charities, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Braddock to name a few — have been inundated with people seeking dental care.
The SHHC dental center will provide preventative and basic oral health care — not orthodontics or oral surgery.
The new dental clinic will have at least one general dentist who can treat children and adults. It may in time have a separate component for pediatric dentistry.
“First, we build the site,” Kalson said, “but while we do that we’ll be searching for the right staff.”
That means SHHC is still looking for money. The federal grant covers mostly capital costs of the clinic. To staff it, the clinic will approach the state and some private sources.
Kalson doesn’t know how big the staff will be.
“The model is for four chairs — four dental exam rooms,” she said. “We’ll need at least one full-time dentist or multiple part-time [dentists] or an assistant or hygienist. But we certainly will be employing more people.”
The SHHC is partnering with the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine to establish the clinic. Dr. Robert Weyant, associate dean of public health and outreach at the dental school, served on an advisory panel for the clinic. He hopes to rotate fourth-year dental students through the facility for training and to assist with the workload.
“They’re pretty competent in a broad area of work,” Weyant said. In addition, the on-staff dentist would be given adjunct faculty status at the university and training in supervising the students.
In announcing the grants last week, President Obama said the investments “won’t just save more money, and create more jobs, they’ll give more people the peace of mind of knowing that health care will be there for them and their families when they need it. Ultimately, that’s what health reform is really about.”
“This is a turning point for us,” Kalson said. “It’s a tremendous recognition of the work we’re doing. We’ve envisioned [providing] dental service since before we opened at the original site. It’s great to start realizing those dreams.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com or 412-687-1005.)