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January 9, 2014

Lafayette County health dept. dental unit cuts back

Mayo — Florida Health Department Administrator for Lafayette and Suwannee counties, Pam Blackmon, spoke to the Lafayette County Board of County Commissioners on Monday, Dec. 9, about the recent announcement stating that effective Jan. 1, 2014, the dental clinic at the Lafayette health department will no longer provide dental services to non-Medicaid patients.

Blackmon said she found out after returning from Thanksgiving vacation that the resident dentist at the health department would be retiring at the end of December. She also said they have been going through other changes at the clinic due to decreased revenues.

“We also started our unit up in Suwannee County about three months ago and that system just has not built up like we need it to, to pay salaries,” said Blackmon. “When I found out that Dr. Jones was going to be retiring, it really was an opportunity to continue to provide services at both counties, but reduced services.”

Blackmon explained that after looking at budgets and other data, it was decided upon to just continue the dental services to Medicaid patients only.

Several things have happened over the last few years, Blackmon said. Medicaid reimbursements have been reduced about 33 percent, and payments by private pay, non-Medicaid patients only averaged about $45 per visit. Medicaid, she said, pays the health department $120 per patient visit.

“We can’t provide services,” said Blackmon. “We stand to lose $95,000 in our dental unit in Lafayette County this year and there isn’t any other revenue to make up for that.”

Commissioner Lance Lamb asked Blackmon if it would be possible to raise private pay fees, but she said the clients wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Blackmon said, for now, she will monitor how much revenue comes in from the part time dentist who will only be seeing Medicaid patients, and if that revenue can exceed the amount needed to pay salaries, then she might be able to consider adding private pay clients again.

Blackmon explained that when the dental unit first came to Lafayette County, it was strictly for Medicaid patients. Then about four years ago, she said the board approved the $45 per visit rate for private pay clients.

“We now have about 51 percent private pay and 49 percent Medicaid,” said Blackmon.

Some of the commissioners said they thought if the private pay rate was raised it could alleviate the revenue problem. Blackmon said she understood, but the health department is supposed to be providing for the under-served.

“The dentist that is currently in Live Oak will travel to Mayo two days a week and she’ll be in Live Oak three days a week,” Blackmon said.

Throughout the state, Blackmon said, all the health departments are experiencing the same issues and cutting back on services.

“It’s a very difficult time, and when I hear that the economy is improving, I don’t see it personally,” she said.

Emergency Medical Services Director Trevor Hicks stated that the indigent care dental clinic at Shands in Live Oak has a waiting list that is two months long. Although it’s an option for dental care, the waiting list is an issue when someone has an immediate need.

“Tooth decay directly relates to the amount of heart disease that a person has,” said Hicks. “If that’s not taken care of, then they start to lose their overall general health.”

Blackmon said her hope is to get the dental unit back to accepting private pay patients, but that it is extremely difficult to find a dentist who will work in a rural area because it simply doesn’t pay enough.

“It might take a very long time to find someone,” she said.

Salaries alone for the dental unit, Blackmon said, are about $325,000 and some could lose their jobs if the option to utilize the part time services of the Live Oak dentist for Medicaid patients only for the time being isn’t agreed upon. Suwannee County, she said, has always been Medicaid only for dental patients. Lamb urged Blackmon to do all possible to keep the dental unit going in Lafayette County.

Dental services will still be provided for Medicaid eligible children and adults on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Lafayette. For those not being served any longer, dental records can be obtained from the health department at 140 SW Virginia Circle at no cost by calling 386-294-1321 to request a copy.

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