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Wright County News

Posted on: March 4, 2020

Wright County Dental Clinic Passes A Big Hurdle at the State Legislature

The proposed inclusion of a dental clinic in the new Wright County Government got a big boost Tuesday when a bill introduced at the Minnesota State Legislature (House File 3644) got a hearing before the House Capital Investment Committee.

One of the biggest hurdles for any bill is to get an initial committee hearing and the dental clinic bill, which is looking for $2 million in state bonding, cleared that hurdle Tuesday, as Wright County Public Health Director Sarah Grosshuesch laid out the request for the House committee.

The bill, which was authored by Rep. Marion O’Neill (IR-Maple Lake), Rep. Joe McDonald (IR-Delano) and Rep. Dean Urdahl (IR-Grove City) and the clinic received letters of support from Meeker, McLeod and Sibley counties – all of whom would likely be core users of the clinic along with Wright County residents.

McDonald introduced the bill to the committee, pointing out that this is a unique request and that Wright County doesn’t come to the state looking for money.

“This bill is the first request that Wright County has requested for a bonding project in my history,” McDonald said. “Hopefully that will help our case. This comes with great need and is a wonderful project.

“Our county has never sought a bonding dollar before, but this project is so vitally important we thought it was very necessary that we needed your help in offering public health for those who need it in our county and the surrounding counties,” McDonald added. “With your support, we hope to gain this great project in Wright County.”

Grosshuesch then provided testimony to the committee and demonstrated the clear need for a service that is sorely lacking not only in Wright County, but in the surrounding counties of Central Minnesota. She said this wasn’t a decision that came quickly and that the Wright County Public Health Task Force has been working on this for years to get to this point.

“Through a three-year public process coordinated by our Public Health Task Force, we identified dental health access as one of our top health priorities for our county and also the surrounding area,” Grosshuesch said. “We have approximately 15,000 residents that receive medical insurance from Minnesota health programs like Medical Assistance and an additional 55,000 residents in our surrounding counties. That doesn’t include folks on Medicare who do not have access to dental insurance.”

A 2018 survey of Wright County found that 24 percent of adults reported delaying dental care. Of those, 60 percent stated cost was the reason for the delay. Due to low reimbursement rates, most local dentists are at full capacity and can’t accept new patients, which has created a shortage that has become both dangerous and expensive for health care providers.

Between 2015-18, 1,800 patients visited emergency rooms in Buffalo and Monticello for dental-related reasons, turning what started as small problems into bigger problems. The estimate is that each visit costs $1,200 and the majority of that care went unpaid. The closest available clinic is in Brooklyn Park, which, depending on where you live in Wright County, is more than a two-hour round-trip drive.

The need has become more urgent with the closure of Operation Grace, a provider that sporadically did dental care in Wright County. It shut down operation in January. The bigger issue was that it was determined that the planning process and fundraising that would be needed to get the clinic built and funded as a stand-alone facility would go beyond five years, which wouldn’t be feasible considering the current lack of available care options.

However, Grosshuesch said that Wright County stepped up with an unexpected invitation to use available space in the new Government Center as the base of operations for the clinic, which would greatly reduce the up-front costs and provide a larger work area to assist more patients than previously planned.

“Last summer, the opportunity presented itself to co-locate the facility within the new Wright County Government Center,” Grosshuesch said. “I want to thank my county commissioners for their vision on this idea. The bonding request would allow us to build out a 6,200 square-foot dental clinic on the site. Co-locating within the Government Center will allow us to achieve significant efficiencies in construction and operation of the facility.”

Wright County Public Health has already developed a partnership with Community Dental Care, a non-profit that has clinics in Rochester, Maplewood, St. Paul and Robbinsdale and serves 50,000 unique patients a year from 63 of Minnesota’s 87 counties. Community Dental Care would bring in dental professionals to operate the day-to-day business at the clinic. The facility would have 12 dental chairs, a staff of 20-25 and the capability to serve 7,000 unique cases a year.

One of the primary selling points is that, as part of a larger county-funded construction project, the clinic would be as “shovel-ready” as it could possibly be – which is always a priority when projects are looking for state or federal funding. Grosshuesch said the that, if funded, project planning will conclude this fall, construction will begin in January 2021 and would start serving patients in August 2021.

Representative Urdahl, who sits on the Capital Investment Committee and is one of the sponsors of the bill, is a nine-term representative who carries some clout on the committee. He not only showed support for the bill to the other members of the committee, he shared a personal story about how extensive the need is. 

“Thank you for doing this bill,” Urdahl said. “It’s a very important issue in Greater Minnesota. As you indicated, there are many people that are unserved or underserved. Just giving one example, my wife worked for group homes and group home residents are almost universally turned down and unable to get care. Now they would be able to be going to your facility.”

To see video of the committee hearing, click on this link to be taken to the Legislature’s YouTube channel. The Wright County discussion begins at 1:03:30 of the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBL1qwx3xn8 

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