BRISTOL — A new dental center serving people of all income levels is expected to open this fall in Bristol’s revitalized industrial park, thanks to a recently announced $300,000 federal grant that will provide key funding for the longstanding effort.
Moreover, the opening of the Addison County Dental Center (ACDC) is expected to complement a concurrent effort to establish a Federally Qualified Health Center, or FQHC, at the town’s industrial park, which is gaining new momentum as BristolWorks.
Already operating in BristolWorks is the 5-Town Health Alliance, doing business as Mountain Health Center. Organizers are expecting ACDC to be tied to Mountain Health as it continues its effort to become an FQHC. Funded with federal money, the FQHC model offers primary, dental, behavioral health and preventative healthcare services to people — regardless of insurance status or ability to pay — in medically underserved areas.
But federal budget problems have prompted Washington to clamp down on the number of FQHCs that can be approved and funded, which has hampered the 5-Town Health Alliance’s FQHC efforts in Bristol. So plans now call for Mountain Health to seek FQHC “Look-Alike status.” A “Look-Alike” provides the same services as a full-fledged FQHC and can receive similar breaks on prescription drug pricing as well as enhanced reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid patients. But Look-Alikes don’t receive the direct federal grant funding that full-fledged FQHCs do.
Peg Martin has been among a core group that has been working for years to establish a local dental center that could serve low- and moderate-income patients, many of whom can’t afford regular care for their teeth. After a couple of failed attempts in Middlebury, Martin was pleased to announce last week that the center finally has the funding, location and dentist it needs to proceed.
“We are absolutely delighted that this has come to pass,” Martin said of the award of the $300,000 grant, confirmed by Vermont Community Development Program Director Josh Hanford.
“This will be a boon to a lot of people.”
The grant money will go toward the purchase of equipment for the new dental center, which is expected to serve around 1,000 patients per year — 550 of which will be low- or moderate-income citizens, according to state officials. The ACDC now has a total budget of around $540,000 to set up and get running.
And the center has taken another big step in that regard.
Patrick Rowe, a dentist who currently works at the Winooski Dental Center and at the FQHC in Morrisville, has agreed to take the helm of ACDC.
“He knows exactly what he is getting into,” Martin said in referring to Rowe’s experience with an FQHC. “I don’t think we could have hired a better person to do it.”
Organizers will look for some dental hygienists and an office person to round out the ACDC staff. Once the operation becomes affiliated with the Mountain Health Look-Alike, Martin anticipates a central billing system. The center is expected to be equipped with three dentist’s chairs, according to Martin.
Jill Mackler is vice president of the 5-Town Health Alliance. She is optimistic the ACDC and Mountain Health Look-Alike center will be working together in BristolWorks before the end of the year. And the service can’t arrive soon enough, she noted.
“There is a huge need,” Mackler said.
ACDC received one of five Community Development Block Grants, totaling around $1 million, recently awarded to projects throughout the state. The other grants went to an affordable housing rehab in Hardwick; Habitat for Humanity housing in Charlotte; a community center/mixed-income housing project in Rutland City; and a renewable energy greenhouse operation in Coventry.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]