Dr. Heidi Rabie, Division Chief of Public Health Dental Clinics for AHS, says around one per cent of ER visits in Canada are for dental issues.
The clinic is for Alberta residents without dental insurance of any kind, individuals with income under low-income cutoff limits, and/or with a direct referral from the hospital emergency department for a specific dental emergency.
Having opened this June, the clinic has already supported over 100 patients with more than 300 appointments ranging from extractions to fillings, among other urgent procedures. This week, the clinic will be expanding their hours from two to three days a week, with a rough capacity of 10 patients per day.
Rabie stated that oral health can not only affect a person’s physical health but also their psycho-social health including self-confidence, embarrassment, comfort and employment. She shared various success stories of patients the clinic has already helped in Red Deer, including a 50-year man with multiple sclerosis, a man in his twenties who completed a rehabilitation program at the Dream Centre now looking for work, and a 40-year-old woman whose teeth had decayed from a former drug addiction.
“This is a wonderful example of how partnerships can truly make a difference, ensuring that every Albertan gets the essential healthcare they deserve,” said Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Health and MLA for Red Deer-North. “This clinic will enhance the quality and accessibility of healthcare in Red Deer and its neighbouring communities, while also helping to relieve the capacity pressures on our emergency departments.”
LaGrange shared a personal story of having to forgo her own dental health for her seven children when she and her husband worked on their family farm, with one son needing dental surgery to prevent further heart problems.
“The Public Health Dental Clinic in Red Deer is helping to bring oral healthcare to Albertans who have difficulty accessing health and medical support,” said AHS President and CEO Mauro Chies. “We are grateful to the generous support of GreenShield for helping to bring this vital service to those vulnerable to poor oral health outcomes in central Alberta.”
The clinic is supported by a $1.5-million grant over five years from GreenShield, a not-for-profit health and benefits company, and represents an opportunity to mitigate oral health inequities in Alberta.
“The disparities in access to oral healthcare that persist, particularly among vulnerable populations, are concerning. As a not-for-profit health and benefits company, GreenShield is committed to improving health outcomes for Canadians as part of our social mission of ‘better health for all,” said Zahid Salman, President and CEO of GreenShield. “We aim to make vital healthcare services more accessible for underserved and marginalized communities and have committed over $20 million to help ensure all Canadians have access to oral healthcare services.”
Salman shared the history of the organization, created by a pharmacist who watched a mother having to choose medication for her daughter over her own as she could not afford both. He said over 30 per cent of Canadians don’t have coverage for oral health.
Dr. Michael Mulholland, AHS Associate Zone Medical Director for Red Deer and Area, says patients will be offloaded from hospital emergency rooms to the right care.
“[The clinic] is co-located with other services that support low-income individuals in Red Deer, such as AHS Street Connect and the Red Deer PCN Street Clinic, which rounds out the suite of services offered at that location.”
Clients will be referred to the clinic through services like Street Connect, the Primary Care Network Street Clinic, Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and other services, such as the opioid dependency program. The clinic will provide basic care to patients, responding to common dental concerns such as cavities, toothaches and the need for extractions.
Currently all services are fully covered for patients, however, following the five-year funding, patients may need to pay up to 20 per cent of costs, similar to the clinics in Calgary, said Rabie.
In 2015, the public health dental clinics in Calgary received a separate grant from GreenSheild for supplemental support to enhance dental services for patients referred from emergency departments.