LITTLE BOSTON — A $100,000 health grant from the Arcora Foundation will provide seven dental operatory chairs inside a new integrated Health Services building for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
“We haven’t always had the best access to dental care,” said Jolene Sullivan, director of Health Services for the tribe. “Patients used to receive care in a single-wide trailer. Sometimes you’d be in the middle of an appointment and some of the equipment would shut off.”
Sullivan said she received dental care from the trailer as a child, and since then the operation has grown to live in a permanent structure.
The current facility, however, cannot sufficiently support those eligible for care, including all enrolled tribal members in Kitsap County with or without insurance and non-tribal members with Medicaid.
The new health facility — built in part with $2 million from the state’s capital budget — and the addition of one part-time dentist and dental health aid therapist, will enable oral health patient capacity to double, Sullivan said.
“Though we have many who regularly visit the medical clinic,” Sullivan said, “less receive dental care.”
Only 30 percent of those on Medicaid on the Olympic Peninsula use their dental benefits, said Diane Oakes, president and CEO of Arcora, adding that “Natives tend to have higher rates of oral disease.”
“Those with poor oral health have a harder time finding jobs and kids will have a harder time learning,” she said.
The dental services provided will include preventive care such as routine hygiene, restorative care including fillings, sealants, oral cancer screenings, endodontics and periodontics.
Arcora is the nonprofit foundation of Delta Dental, which strives to increase access to oral healthcare to low-income areas.
The grant will also increase preventative education, which is an important element for tribal members, Sullivan said.
After having limited access to oral care and traumatic experiences, tribal members hold on to anxiety, Sullivan said. They “were afraid to come back.”
“Now we only see those with extreme dental needs because they let it go so long.”
The dental health aid therapist will be breaking that fear barrier by going out into the community to visit elders in their home and “work up to coming into the clinic,” Sullivan said.
The program hopes to train native tribal members in the dental health aid therapist role to increase the comfort level of patients.
The 22,500-square-foot, two-story medical facility design by Blue Architecture of Bremerton is budgeted at $8.1 million, and construction is set to begin this fall.
The design is intended to provide a casual community atmosphere with a social space in the main lobby featuring a cafe and seating area.The ground floor will host primary and dental care with behavioral health, chemical dependency, group therapy, and community outreach program spaces on the second floor.
The second level will also offer a kitchen and conference room for internal and community use.
“It’s gonna be a fully integrated care facility,” S’Klallam tribal member Kim Freewolf said.
“Now we can make sure the whole person is taken care of better.”
By Isabella Breda