Lots of bright smiles in Sonora this week as Tuolumne General Hospital showed off its new dental clinic at the medical center off South Washington Street.
Staff and administration of the new clinic celebrated with an open house and ribbon cutting reception Thursday afternoon .
TGH Director of Outpatient Clinic Services Katherine Johnston says this was the “unveiling.” Dentists are now on staff, the clinic is open full time and “everything is in place,” she said.
The county dental office serves Medi-cal patients, the insurance for low-income patients. “We wanted to be sure these people received dental care and didnÂ´t have to go out-of-county,” Johnston said. She continued: “When the Tuolumne Clinic closed down several years ago, it really created something of a dental emergency.”
She says the dental clinic on the Indian reservation in Tuolumne has a waiting list to see patients. “They were doing their best, but we were glad to open our doors and see more folks.”
The clinic has been in the works for over a year starting with limited hours in July.
“To see it go from bare boards and no staff – just knowing that thereÂ´s an incredible need – to seeing it open and beautiful and knowing that we were able to meet the need in the community, itÂ´s really exciting. This is great,” Johnston said.
TGH administrator Barry Woerman echoed the fact the new clinic will provide healthcare services patients in Tuolumne County need and save them from having to travel to the valley for treatment.
In phase two of the project, Woerman said the service will be explained. “WeÂ´ll be getting more and more into dental surgery,” he said.
The hospital is continuing to work with a task force to assess needs regarding the new clinic. “Whether itÂ´s transportation, whether itÂ´s education, prevention or intervention. we all have a role to play in that,” Woerman said.
“WeÂ´re committed in working with the members of the community, public health, and the schools to make that work,” he added.
Johnston said the process got underway in the early part of 2002. The hospital met with a group of local dentists and agencies that were working to provide dental service to help get the dream off the ground.
The clinic, located in the main building of the hospital, expects to see between 20 to 25 people a day, Johnston said. “Just in the first month – and we werenÂ´t even open full time – we saw 373 people,” she recalled. “So. we anticipate seeing anywhere from 370 to 550 people a month.”
The clinic is staffed by two dentists and six dental assistants.
Johnston said to open the clinic, do the remodeling and purchase the initial equipment cost about $120,000. But, she said, funding for the dental clinic did not come from the countyÂ´s budget. “No. What we did spend out of the hospitalÂ´s budget (for start-up) is worked into the budget for this office to be paid back within a year.”
Twenty-thousand dollars of the money came from private grants including the Sonora Area Foundation. She said $320,000 from the Community Development block grant, and has not yet been spent. An additional $67,000 California Endowment for Prevention Programs will also available to the hospital clinic as well.
The build-out plan for additional equipment will be completed as grant money comes in. “But, we were pretty good,” Johnston added. “We were pretty thrifty and we ended up with a really nice product.”