February 1, 2013

LePage's budget would cut off patients with special needs

Hard-to-find dental care for 3,000 of the mentally ill and disabled would vanish under the governor's budget.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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On Thursday, dental hygienist Torey Richard cleans the teeth of patient Rick Hagan, 45, of Bath, who has bipolar disorder, at the state-funded dental clinic on Preble Street in Portland.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Timothy Towle has been the Preble Street clinic’s full-time dentist for nearly 20 years. His clients have behavioral, cognitive and physical disabilities. More than 500 require intravenous sedation to be able to sit still in the dentist’s chair.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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Martins noted that Riverview patients who are hospitalized longer than six months do get dental coverage.

Before deciding to shut down the dental program, DHHS officials asked other dental care providers "whether they could assume additional patients from the (clinic)."

"Response to this request was positive and we are optimistic that many patients will be able to find services in the community, though these providers do not serve IV sedation patients," Martins said. "The department is continuing to explore with providers the possibility of providing services related to IV sedation."

The clinic's seven staffers doubt that their patients will be welcome or comfortable at most dental practices. Without regular dental care, many patients will let minor dental issues grow into major problems and wind up in hospital emergency rooms, they say.

A study in 2010 by the Muskie School of Public Service showed that dental disease was the most common reason for emergency room visits by MaineCare and uninsured patients ages 15 to 44, costing the state more than $7 million.

Leaving dental disease unchecked also could drive up related health care costs, Towle said, because dental disease has been linked to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and dementia.

While the clinic's staff members are worried about the future care of their patients, they're also concerned about being laid off in a tough job market.

"We worry about our patients because they really would lose a whole lot if this place closed," said Lisa Roberson, office manager. "But we'd lose our jobs, too."

 

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

 

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Today's poll: LePage proposal

Do you support Gov. LePage's proposal to shut down Clinical Services dental-care agency?

Yes

No

View Results