Board of Health tackles dental clinic funds

MARIETTA – Keeping the Southeastern Ohio Dental Clinic operational took center stage as the Washington County Board of Health continued efforts to cut health department costs and increase revenues during a board session Tuesday night.

The loss of a $59,000 grant that has subsidized the dental clinic in the past was not renewed this year, leaving a substantial gap in the health department-administrated facility’s budget.

Board members identified and approved at least three measures that would, through savings and additional revenues, result in an estimated $25,800 annually for the dental clinic.

Board president Richard Daniell said he and board member Jim Rodgers visited the dental clinic last week.

“I said the clinic’s business plan was unsustainable, although that does not mean it can’t be changed,” Daniell said. “We don’t know of anyone who would give a donation to the clinic, and it would take some time to apply and receive approval for more grant funding.”

But he noted that the loss of the $59,000 grant through the Ohio Department of Health means the dental clinic is no longer bound to offer services on a sliding-fee scale as it has in the past.

“When the clinic opened in 2007 we set a minimum price at $30,” Daniell said. “I would like to see the board increase that minimum to $40, which would generate some significant income.”

The board members agreed to an immediate increase in the minimum fee for all procedures.

In addition, the board OK’d an immediate increase in the fee the clinic charges for use of nitrous oxide during dental procedures from $5 to $10 a patient.

And clinic personnel agreed to perform janitorial services at the facility, which would save $500 a month that is being paid to hire a cleaning person.

“Those three items would generate about $2,150 a month,” said Rodgers.

Other measures that may be considered include shopping for better deals on dental clinic supplies, charging a fee when patients do not show up for an appointment, and not paying for the hour that clinic employees take for lunch every day.

Dr. Dale White, the clinic’s dentist, said between 15 and 20 percent of patient appointments are “no-shows.” He added that the clinic has to maintain the same standards and equipment as a private dental practice, but the clinic’s services are discounted.

“So you almost need some kind of grant funding to support this operation,” White said.

Interim health commissioner Dick Wittberg said he would meet with dental clinic personnel Friday to discuss other possibilities to make up for the lost grant income.

“Grants don’t last forever,” he said. “And if we can figure this situation out, the dental clinic could be a self-sustainable service. That’s the good thing about these discussions.”

White noted that the dental clinic may be able to obtain services at no cost to the county from professionals through a U.S. Public Health Service program.

Wittberg said he would look into that program and, if it is still available, would contact U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown about possible participation by the dental clinic.

In other business Tuesday, Daniell said the board is facing a payroll shortage for the health department and dental clinic.

The monthly total payroll, including benefits, is approximately $64,000 for the 19 employees of the dental clinic and health department.

Daniell noted one reason for the payroll shortage is that the health department is behind on its billing for services. He said Jeannie Farnsworth, the department’s computer coordinator, fiscal officer, and deputy registrar, is tied up with filing required year-end reports, and is unable to take care of the billing at this time.

“Jeannie is swamped, but we have not billed for December or January, so we can’t use that money to meet payroll until the billing is done,” Daniell said.

The board members suggested obtaining a volunteer, possibly from the local Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) or some other source, to help catch up on the billing.