$126,700 grant to Mālama I Ke Ola will provide dental care to more underserved patients
Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center, also known as Community Clinic of Maui, was recently awarded a $126,700 Hawaiʻi Dental Service Foundation grant for new dental equipment that allows all 12 of its dental operatories to safely reopen and serve the community.
The dental clinic offers access to a range of comprehensive dental care services, including routine exams, x-rays, cleanings, deep cleanings, fillings, crowns, partials and complete dentures, root canals and extractions, and all pediatric dental care to improve the quality of life for underserved children and adults, and the uninsured.
“The pandemic has created more needs in our community and has required us to change our protocols. This timely, generous grant from the HDS Foundation allows us to acquire new equipment that meets the stringent COVID-19 safety guidelines of the American Dental Association and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We can now provide dental care in our community again, particularly for those with little to no income and have decreased dental insurance coverage as a result of the pandemic,” said Dr. Lawrence Shin, who has served as dental director of Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center since 2018.
CCM expects a faster, smoother and more efficient workflow that allows providers to see more patients. The new medical grade HEPA air filters in each dental operatory allow CCM to see multiple patients in an open bay clinic layout and provide more complex treatments. The new 3D x-ray machine evaluates whether the CCM’s dentists are able to perform a root canal to prevent unnecessary referrals to a specialist. CCM’s new intraoral scanner also provides a faster turnaround time for crowns and bridges.
“Many in our community have neglected oral care because of constant mask wearing and had to postpone dentist visits during the pandemic. When patients postpone dentist appointments, this can lead to more serious oral health conditions,” Dr. Shin said. “Now is a great time to catch up and get back into the routine — like returning to the gym after a long hiatus. We are open and ready to see you.”
On Maui as well as the other neighbor islands, there are fewer dentists per capita compared to Oʻahu. Many Maui dentists may limit their service to private insurance and private pay patients. As a result, patients who seek dental care through the Med-QUEST program may not be able to find a participating provider in their service area. This situation worsened during the pandemic as many dental providers on Maui closed their patient panels for Medicaid adult patients, leaving CCM as one of the few providers on Maui willing to treat Medicaid adult patients and the uninsured.
CCM opened its operatories cautiously in a phased approach. Last year, the dental clinic remained open for adult emergency patients and children for routine care, with two dentists on staff. In January 2021, the dental clinic started seeing all patients with five operatory rooms in operation with three dentists on staff. In July 2021, the remaining seven operatory rooms were fully operational and fully staffed, including a pediatric dentist and a pediatric resident. Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center now has a total of five dentists and two hygienists on staff.
With all 12 rooms up and running, CCM expects to be able to return to 70% of pre-COVID encounter numbers by the end of 2022. CCM is now recruiting for additional dental staff and eventually will once again be able to accommodate emergency walk-ins to reduce dental-related visits at hospital emergency rooms.
“We recognize that vulnerable populations on Maui, as on all of the other islands, have been disproportionately affected by COVID‐19. The pandemic prompted many dentists to reduce their office hours for routine, preventive care and were only seeing patients for emergency and urgent services,” said Dr. Diane Paloma, Hawaiʻi Dental Service president and CEO. “As a result, many may have delayed preventive care because of a limited access to oral health care services for them during the pandemic. This grant helps to open the door for them and make oral health care more accessible.”
“COVID-19 teaches us many important lessons: our interconnectedness and dependence on one another; our individual and collective responsibility for social welfare, and most importantly, our shared humanity,” said Shin. “How we collectively address the social conditions of our most vulnerable people after the pandemic is over is critical and will shape the trajectory of their health and wellness. We hope to meet some of the oral healthcare needs in our community by fully and safely reopening our dental department.”