March 05, 2021

Dental needs loom large in Jasper County

County board of health discusses lack of providers for underserved population

Like many Iowa counties, Jasper County struggles with dental services for the underserved population. At the Jasper County Board of Health meeting Jan. 14, it was reported any Medicaid patients currently must leave the county for services with no local dentist taking Medicaid funding.

“That is the underserved portion of Jasper County right now. As far as I know, Jasper County has zero dentists who accept Medicaid,” board medical director Andrew Cope said. “I have a hard time explaining to a lot of my patients that, sorry, you have to go out of county.”

Heather Bombei, regional community health consultant at the Iowa Department of Public Health, said Jasper County is not alone in this area. The entire state is struggling with providers accepting Medicaid or Title 19 for underserved patients.

For local residents, the closest providers accepting new eligible Medicaid patients reside in Marion County at Ancell Dental in Knoxville, according to the I-Smile program. Also in the state, River Hills Dental in Centerville, Community Health Centers of Southern Iowa in Leon and coming soon, Chariton Dental in Chariton are available for services.

Board chair Margot Voshell asked if there is anything the county can do to attract dentists who are willing to provide for the underserved. Jasper County Health Department Administrator Becky Pryor brought up a Dental Education Loan Repayment Project through Delta Dental as one way to help fill the need.

“Dentists, if they come to an underserved area they can help get their student loans repaid, up to $100,000, through Delta Dental,” Pryor said.

The Fulfilling Iowa’s Need for Dentists (FIND) Project is committed to connecting dentists and underserved communities with the resource needed to combat Iowa’s dental shortage, so dental care is close to home for every Iowa. FIND collaborates with communities on the recruitment and establishment of a private practicing dental office located in rural, underserved areas in Iowa for up to $100,000 loan repayment award.

“It does say that 35 percent of their patients have to be the underserved,” Pryor said.

Bombei also mentioned a repayment program through the State of Iowa that has been developed for the same purpose.

“There is a program, a dental repayment program that is happening in some counties, what I remember of that in my region there weren’t any counties that qualified, I think they were in the southeast portion of the state,” Bombei said. “I’m hoping they will expand that so more dentist will participate.”

Services that are provided in the county by I-Smile cover some preschool and elementary students’ needs. Twice a year, dental screenings, fluoride varnish applications and age appropriate dental education is given through the I-Smile Early Childhood Fluoride Program.

In other business:

• Margot Voshell was approved as the board of health chair for another year.

• The fiscal year 2020-21 and 2021-22 budgets were approved. For the coming fiscal year, the budget was reduced by $468,355 for the health department. It will go before the board of supervisors for approval.

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com