Dental center planned at Bristol Works

BRISTOL — Organizers of  a proposed Addison County Dental Center have applied for $300,000 in Vermont Community Development Program funds to equip a new facility that would provide dental care to people of all income levels in a new office in the Bristol Works industrial park off Pine Street.
“If we get the grant, we know we will be able to go forward and it will be full speed ahead,” said Peg Martin, a leader of the Addison County Dental Center effort.
Bristol officials have agreed to endorse the dental center plan, which until recently was targeting the former Bristol Internal Medicine headquarters on Park Street. That building became available when the medical practice left for more spacious quarters in the nearby Bristol Works. But it turns out the Park Street building could not meet the proposed dental center’s septic system requirements, Martin said.
That sent organizers casting about for another location, which they believe they have found in Bristol Works, a campus that formerly hosted Autumn Harp and is now being opened to a variety of manufacturing, health care and other enterprises. One of those enterprises is the 5-Town Health Alliance, doing business as Mountain Health Center.
Organizers hope the new dental center can be tied to Mountain Health as it continues its effort to become a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). Funded with federal money, FQHCs offer primary care, dental, behavioral and preventative healthcare services to people — regardless of insurance status or ability to pay — in medically underserved areas.
But federal budget problems have prompted Washington to clamp down on the number of FQHCs that can be approved and funded, a situation that has hampered the 5-Town Health Alliance’s FQHC efforts in Bristol. But Mackler said immediate plans now call for Mountain Health to seek FQHC Look-Alike status.
A “Look-Alike,” Mackler explained, provides the same services as a full-fledged FQHC and can receive similar breaks on prescription drug pricing as well as better reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid patients. But the big difference is that Look-Alikes don’t receive the direct federal grant funding that full-fledged FQHCs do.
“There is no steady stream of funding,” Mackler said.
Still, having Look-Alike status would give the Bristol Works-based practice a leg-up when the feds solicit the next round of FQHC applications, organizers said. In the meantime, plans call for Mountain Health to operate as an FQHC for six months, at which point it can apply to the feds for Look-Alike status, according to Mackler. If all goes according to plan, Mountain Health would be a designated FQHC Look-Alike by next fall, with the long-term potential for a strong FQHC application.
Mackler said Mountain Health will at its outset have a “a sliding-scale fee based on income,” and a staff including two part-time physicians, a full-time physician’s assistant and a handful of part-time registered nurses, nurse practitioners and LPNs.
Meanwhile, dental center organizers are hoping that siting the dental clinic near Mountain Health in Bristol Works will offer a one-stop network of health care services for people of all incomes. The $300,000 grant from the VCDP would help purchase dental equipment for what would be a three-chair facility with one dentist — one has agreed to sign on, Martin said — and at least one hygienist to start.
Organizers have spent several years trying to establish a county dental center to treat many low- to moderate-income residents who are uninsured or under-insured. Officials did assemble federal funding to equip a dental center in Middlebury around three years ago, but were unable to find a dentist for the facility. That meant the federal grant money had to be returned and now has to be reacquired for the proposed Bristol center.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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