A pilot program to bring dental care to about 500 residents of three convalescent hospitals in San Diego County was announced Friday by the San Diego County Dental Society.
For many of those patients, it will mean access to dentists for the first time since they became confined to the hospitals, officials say.
Participating in the program are the county's Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital in Santee and the private Hebrew Home for the Aged in San Diego and Regency Nursing Center in Escondido.
"We'll be bringing dental care directly to people who otherwise can't receive it because they aren't able to leave their convalescent hospitals," said Dexter Varnum, spokesman for the California Dental Assn., which will monitor the local project to see if it can be adapted statewide.
Other Pilot Programs
Similar pilot programs are under way in Santa Barbara and in Alameda County, he said.
While staff members at convalescent homes can detect dental problems in patients, it is hard finding a dentist to visit the facility to provide treatment because of the difficulty transporting cumbersome dental equipment. In addition, the reimbursement rate for dental care through Medi-Cal is only about 40% of a doctor's normal charge, Varnum noted.
Few patients are physically able to visit a dentist's office and not many have family in the area to take them there, he added.
As a result, the San Diego County Dental Society will set up small dental clinics in two of the facilities--Edgemoor already has a dental suite--and will recruit a pool of dentists to staff the clinics on a regular basis. The dentists will receive Medi-Cal reimbursement.
Edgemoor, which has about 300 patients, already had a program for visiting dentists. The problem, said Dr. William Bailey, medical director at Edgemoor, was that a dentist would quit after several months to devote more time to a private practice, creating a gap in service.
Pool of Dentists
"There were more disincentives than incentives to coming here, because of the low Medi-Cal reimbursement rate and because many of our patients are mentally disturbed and hard to work with," Bailey said. "The dentist would come here while building up his own practice, then sign off once he had built up his own practice."
The advantage of the new program, Bailey said, "will be having a pool of dentists to provide continuous care to our patients."
Gary Liederman, administrator of the 96-bed Hebrew Home for the Aged, and Stacy Thompson, social service director for the 107-bed Regency Nursing Center, both said they welcomed the program because of the difficulty in getting dentists to visit nursing homes.
"Almost everyone here will be able to use the service because, either due to their physical condition or transportation limitations, they are unable to leave and go to their own dentists," said Thompson. "And there are so few dentists who will come here."
Liederman noted that some dentists will care for patients' dentures--since they can be taken to the doctor's office--"but now we will be receiving a higher level of care."
At both private facilities, a dentist's chair and X-ray equipment has been installed to facilitate on-site care.