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Rice reports dental clinic rapidly filling its schedule

WILLMAR -- The Rice Regional Dental Clinic has been open for barely a month, but already the schedule is rapidly filling up with patients. "We're just inundated. The phone rings constantly," said Lorry Massa, chief executive of Rice Memorial Hosp...

WILLMAR -- The Rice Regional Dental Clinic has been open for barely a month, but already the schedule is rapidly filling up with patients.

"We're just inundated. The phone rings constantly," said Lorry Massa, chief executive of Rice Memorial Hospital.

The regional dental clinic, a partnership between the city-owned hospital and the University of Minnesota, has a twofold purpose. It provides hands-on training in a rural setting for dentistry and dental hygiene students at the university, and it helps increase access to dental care for the region's low-income and uninsured population.

During the first two weeks the clinic was open, it saw 115 patients, Massa told Rice Hospital board members in an update this week.

Most were on public programs of some sort, he said. "The vast majority of those were MinnesotaCare recipients."

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MinnesotaCare is a subsidized health insurance program for Minnesota residents who do not have access to affordable health care coverage.

This population -- most of whom cannot get dental care anywhere else -- is what the regional dental clinic has been targeting, Massa said.

"We're finding we were correct -- there is a true unmet need out there," he said. "Clearly it's going to be a very valuable service in the region."

Program officials spent the month of December opening the clinic and bringing staff on board. Students were on site for two weeks, during which time they performed 493 procedures that generated $50,000 in gross charges.

Local, state and federal funds are helping cover the dental clinic's operating costs, but patient revenue also is expected to contribute to the bottom line.

Activity will pick up this month, now that the Christmas break is over and the dentistry and dental hygiene students have resumed their training schedule.

Massa said patient appointments already have been booked into February. Patients are coming from a five- to six-county area. Most are hearing about the program through word of mouth or from area public health agencies.

Rice Hospital also has started the process of staff credentialing for a handful of area dentists who have agreed to assist with the clinic.

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