Economy takes bite out of mobile dental program

Monday, May 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — State budget woes could force a nearly 50-year-old mobile dental program serving 30,000 developmentally disabled children and adults to cut way back on its services.

As of Sept. 30, the state will eliminate its support for the dental program, which has two mobile clinics that serve 42 locations. State contributions to the program, which also gets funding from the Missouri Elks Foundation, peaked at $500,000, but that dropped to $177,000 for the last fiscal year.

"There's little or no services" out there for that segment of the population, said John Dane, director of the Truman Medical Center program in Kansas City, whose dental department provides the service. "There's a need for it."

Each unit — there used to be three before previous funding cuts — is equipped to provide a full range of dental services, including X-rays, fillings, extractions, cleaning and other treatments. Eligible patrons receive the services at no cost.

State cuts will result in the Elks having to bear the entire cost of the program. But that group's more than $200,000 annual funding for the service covers the cost of only one mobile unit.

Elks Association member Carroll Schleeter, a trustee in the organization's benevolent trust fund, said that without state assistance, the Elks are "going to be left holding the bag."

The organization teamed up with the state health department to get the program going in 1962, with the Elks purchasing and equipping the buses.

One unit left Columbia late last week after a five-week stay amid uncertainty about whether it would be coming back. While the Elks have pledged to stand by their commitment to fund the program next year, it won't be enough to prevent the loss of one of the two mobile units if other money isn't found.

That would reduce the number of places served by the program to 16, forcing clients who need continuing care but who can't get an appointment with the mobile unit to seek care at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City.

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