MIDDLEBURY — A group seeking to open a new Middlebury dental practice that could absorb more under-insured clients is looking to partner with an organization trying to establish a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Bristol.
It’s a partnership that boosters believe could provide one-stop shopping for medical, dental and mental health services for county residents who are uninsured or cash-strapped.
A nonprofit group has been working for the past several years to establish an “Addison County Dental Center” in Middlebury. The organization has successfully raised a total of around $350,000 in grants, donations and federal earmarks to equip the center to minimize debt for a dentist who would then be able to take on a substantial number of Medicaid and under-insured patients.
Organizers had identified a spot in the Battell Block on Merchants Row in which to locate the dental center. But on four separate occasions, center organizers thought they had recruited a dentist, only to have the person back out for various reasons. Dental center board member Margaret “Peg” Martin believes a factor in all four cases was the uncertainty surrounding the economy.
“It’s not an inconsequential thing you’re talking about,” she said of the challenge of launching a new business right now. “Without a salary, it’s a real jump.”
That’s where an affiliation with the Five-Town Health Alliance and its proposed FQHC in Bristol could be of help. Inclusion of the proposed dental center would complete the alliance’s application for $650,000 in federal funding to get the Bristol center off the ground.
And an affiliation with the FQHC would allow the dentist to draw a stable salary, thereby taking some of the financial risk out of the equation, according to Martin.
Nancy Maranello is a leader of the Five-Town Health Alliance. She and fellow organizers are putting the finishing touches on the federal grant application for the FQHC to serve the five towns of Bristol, New Haven, Lincoln, Starksboro, and Monkton. The FQHC model offers primary care, dental, behavioral health, and preventative health care services to everyone, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
It was in June of 2009 that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designated the Addison County five-town area as a medically underserved population. FQHCs are funded under the Community Health Center Section 330 provisions of the Public Health Service Act. A start-up CHC, as proposed by the Five-Town Health Alliance, may request up to $650,000 in its first round of funding. The alliance has been working with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. on the application and organizers are seeking to open the new health center by the fall of 2011.
A location for the health center is still being worked out, but Maranello hopes it can be based in Bristol village’s industrial park (the former home base for Autumn Harp), which is being eyed for redevelopment.
Maranello and Martin noted the dental center could be sited in Middlebury and still maintain its affiliation with a Bristol-based FQHC. That’s because Addison County Transportation Resources offers regular public bus service between the two communities.
There are currently eight community health centers in Vermont with 41 satellite offices that now serve 108,000 patients — more per capita than in any other state in the country. The health centers are nonprofit and a majority of the governing board of directors must be consumers of the services, which include preventative and primary care.
The Five-Town Health Alliance will learn by next summer if it has landed $650,000 for the new health center.
Once established, the five-town health center would employ around 20 full- and part-time workers. Patients of all income levels will be served. Fees will be assessed on a sliding scale, according to Maranello.
“Everyone who comes through the door will be served,” she said.
More information about the local community health center effort can be found at www.5tha.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.