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
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
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
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
“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
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
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