Hospital seeks ways to see more Medi-Cal dental patients

Debra Moore
Staff Writer


A month after a child advocate raised concerns about dental care for Medi-Cal recipients, particularly children, health care providers are working on a solution.

Plumas District Hospital CEO Doug Lafferty said that it needs to be a “community solution,” and by that he means he needs local dentists to help.

“There are nine dentists in town,” Lafferty said during an interview Feb. 26, “and none of them take Medi-Cal.”

That leaves the hospital’s dental clinic and dentist as the only local option. The clinic, which is open four days a week and sees approximately 16 patients per day, has a waiting list.

Linda Margaretic, health services manager for Head Start, spoke to the hospital board Feb. 6 about the issue.

She recognized that “Dr. Patel is overwhelmed” at the clinic and wanted to pursue options to increase service. She suggested expanding the role of the clinic’s hygienist and seeking the help of the area’s dentists.

The dental office is closed on Friday. If it were open, it could offer more opportunity.

Since Margaretic spoke during public comment, the directors couldn’t respond, but Kathy Price offered to serve on a committee to investigate options.

Lafferty addressed some of Margaretic’s suggestions Feb. 26, including the role of the hygienist.

“She is already seeing a full schedule of patients,” Lafferty said. “We’re pretty well full.”

However, he would make the clinic available to other dentists who would want to work on Friday, and would pay them approximately $1,000. “After hours is also a possibility,” he said.

Lafferty said he has approached a couple of dentists but, to date, hasn’t found anyone who wants to commit the time.

The hospital is reimbursed for Medi-Cal patients at a set rate and the clinic loses money every year. While the clinic could see other patients — those with insurance or self-pays — Lafferty said he chooses not to compete with local dentists for those dollars.

“We have more than enough dentists” providing coverage for the area, he said. “We are only here to provide Medi-Cal services.” The clinic does serve some non-Medi-Cal patients.

Lafferty has talked with Public Health Director Mimi Hall and said both agree that it is a community issue.

Portola and Greenville can care for more Medi-Cal patients, but Margaretic said it’s not always feasible for individuals to drive that distance.

Though patients also have difficulty making it to the Feather River Family Dentistry dental clinic. “We have a 20 percent no-show rate,” Lafferty said, which compares to about 5 percent at the medical clinics.

Patients are called and reminded the day before the appointment, but there are still many who miss their scheduled time. “This results in a loss of productivity,” Lafferty said, and added that he has considered implementing a no-show fee to encourage individuals to keep their appointments.

Margaretic said it’s important for this issue to be addressed because she has witnessed a vast improvement in dental care for children from low-income families and she doesn’t want to see that progress lost.

She stressed the important health benefit of early and regular visits to a dentist.

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