The Ottumwa Courier

September 26, 2012

More access to dental care

Expansion at River Hills Community Health Center

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — If you think there’s too long a wait to get your  teeth taken care of, River Hills Community Health Center has good news.

The new expansion has increased the number of patients that can be seen in their dental department, and community leaders were at the Market Street location to tour the new wing.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve always been fully booked,” said Dr. Ken Jones, the dental director, who started in 2005.

They’ve added a dentist, bringing the staff to three dentists, as well as two full-time and one part-time dental hygienists.

Suzanne Heckenliable, executive director of Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation, said as a not-for-profit organization, Delta has a responsibility to assist with social welfare.

“Their expansion can serve more people — it addresses a need,” she said. “In community health centers, our goal is to help [many] Iowans, especially under-served Iowans, [access] oral health care on a regular basis.”  

Her organization gave River Hills $92,000.

River Hills CEO Rick Johnson said that covered about half the cost of the expansion.

“We had a nice space before,” said Jones, “we just didn’t have the capacity. There are a lot of people looking for a dental home.”

Johnson kicked off the dental department in 2005. When he was hired by the board, they told him they wanted to provide needed care services to the community.

He said just talking to the medical patients clued him in to the fact that many of them had no dental care. And the federal government was encouraging community health centers to branch out and provide more than just medical care.

When Johnson and the board said they were going to bring the community a dental clinic that would accept private and government insurance, or a sliding scale for those who are uninsured, they applied for a grant, received it. They also said they would bring in an OB/GYN clinic and a behavioral health department: Both are up and running.

In 2005, there were 21 employees. As of Tuesday, the clinic employed 125 people.

The board still encourages growth, Johnson said. The “need” he sees is in mental health care.

“I think we could use another therapist, though they’re hard to find. We’re adding tele-psychiatry to our behavioral health [department]. And we’d eventually like to hire our own psychiatrists. What I’d really like is to hire a child psychologist and an adult psychologist.”