COLUMBIA — On the first of each month, uninsured residents of Boone County line up for hours outside the Health Department in hopes of receiving dental care they can't otherwise afford.
“People were arriving earlier and earlier,” said Rebecca Roesslet, social services supervisor of the Public Health and Human Services Department. “On one occasion, we had a gentleman spend the night. It’s getting cold. That is not good."
The Health Department offers dental care for uninsured residents of Boone County. To learn more about eligibility requirements or about the process of receiving care:
- Contact the Health Department's division of human services at 874-7488.
- Ask to speak to a social services specialist.
Even though those in need of dental care had been evaluated by a Health Department nurse practitioner, being referred to a dentist was on a first-come, first-served basis. That changed Oct. 1, when the Health Department adopted a new lottery system.
"The old system was not accommodating to people with disabilities, people who are working, people with children at home or the elderly,” Roesslet said.
The program, which began in 1990, serves between nine and 15 people each month, Roesslet said.The new lottery system will not change the number of patients treated. The department made 203 dental assessments in 2009.
After being screened for eligibility and evaluated, patients are entered in a lottery and chosen on the first of each month using a random number program on a computer. The Health Department calls those selected and gives them five days to come to the Health Department, Roesslet said.
Eligibility requirements include, but are not limited to, permanent residents of Boone County who are uninsured.
A $10 co-pay and a fee for the dental assessment are the patients' only fees.
Nine Columbia dentists volunteer for the program, and each dentist sees about one patient referred by the Health Department each month, Roesslet said.
“They donate services at an incredible reduction,” she said. “It is pure charity. They don’t like to see the public in dental pain any more than we do. We have nine right now. We are grateful for the ones that we have.”
The number of patients the dentists can serve “doesn’t come near to meeting the needs,” Roesslet said.
The dentists treat pain relief only. They do not perform oral surgery or work with crowns or dentures.
Colin Malaker of Sterling Dental Care, a dentist who volunteers for the program, has been involved for about two years. “Everyone needs to help out their neighbors and the community,” Malaker said. “A lot of guys do it. Dentists in this community are very philanthropic.”
Brett Russell, another dentist who offers care to the uninsured, said that he joined the program “just to help people out.”
"It enables dentists to provide services," Russell said. "I think it’s a very nice service the city is able to extend to some people.”