Updated 11:40 am
A $500,000 grant from MVYouth to Island Health Care (IHC) will support the capital costs of building a dental clinic for the Island, something IHC CEO Cynthia Mitchell called a “desperate need” on the Island.
“It is very exciting. We are so grateful to MVYouth for their tremendous support,” Mitchell told The Times. “It is a desperate [need]. There are no dental practices that accept Medicaid. We have a significant Medicaid-eligible and Medicaid-covered population on the Island. Even if you have MassHealth, you can’t be seen by a dentist on the Vineyard.”
The hospital closed its dental clinic in 2020, unable to make it financially viable. Dentists on the Island don’t take Medicaid, which leaves only the clinics that come to the Island to fill the need.
What makes IHC different?
IHC is the Island’s only federally qualified health center, Mitchell said, which means it can get reimbursed. “We qualify for enhanced reimbursement through Medicaid,” Mitchell said. “A dental practice or hospital might be $80 for a visit. We get a couple of hundred because we serve the populations that we do.”
According to a press release, about 50 percent of those served by the clinic will be 25 and younger, which is what prompted MVYouth to provide funding. MVYouth was founded with the mission to support the Martha’s Vineyard community by investing in its young people, the release states. MVYouth’s Expansion Grants provide funding to youth-serving organizations to complete high-impact capital projects. MVYouth also hopes to increase charitable giving on Martha’s Vineyard by vetting and endorsing organizations who have demonstrated excellence, and encouraging others to generously support them as well, the release states.
“Access to quality dental care is currently a critical and unmet need in our community. Normally, MVYouth waits to fund a capital project like this until the organization is seeking the last dollars needed to accomplish the project, but we are investing in the youth-serving portion of this project now with great hopes that other generous organizations and individuals will match our support to fund this essential community project,” Lindsey Scott, MVYouth’s executive director, said in the release.
Mitchell said the funds will be used to build and equip a four-chair dental center near the Edgartown Triangle, where IHC has already purchased a commercial unit at Mariner’s Landing for the dental clinic with the help of a loan through MV Bank, and will eventually look to expand its primary-care space in two other larger units.
The clinic will “provide preventive dental care, basic oral health services, and acute dental care to patients with financial need who are not otherwise able to access dental services.”
Mitchell said the proposed dental center is part of a larger primary-care expansion project IHC is undertaking to serve this population. The MVYouth grant is part of a capital campaign IHC is undertaking to pay for the expanded services.
The total project budget, including purchase of the building, construction, and equipment expenses is $1,583,985, the release states. Through two federal and state grants, IHC successfully acquired $584,122 for capital construction expenses. After receiving MVYouth’s $500,000 award, the organization is seeking community investment for the final roughly $500,000 needed to fully fund the project.
Mitchell said the goal is to have the clinic up and running by the fall of 2023.
“From census demographic and income data, IHC has identified more than 2,600 youth 0-25 years old whose families are income-eligible for Medicaid and Health Safety Net (HSN) assistance,” the release states. However, no Island dentists accept reimbursement from these programs. Additionally, many other families who are not income-eligible for assistance are unable to afford private dental care, or to go off-Island for care.
IHC’s staffing plan currently includes hiring a supervising dental director, pediatric dental residents, dental residents, and dental hygienists. Through partnership with the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, IHC has access to experts who have advised them about their capital budget and operations. Boston University will also be instrumental in staffing the facility with rotating dental residents.
“We strongly support the possibility of developing externship opportunities for our dental students and dental residents at the new dental clinic. With over three decades of experience placing postdoctoral dental residents in specialty training and dental students in their final year of their program at community health centers throughout Massachusetts and nationally, we have the infrastructure in place to seamlessly expand the program to Martha’s Vineyard,” Michelle Henshaw DDS, MPH, associate dean of global and population health, and Joseph Calabrese, DMD, associate dean of students wrote in a letter of support for the project.
Knowing the challenges associated with securing housing for rotating staff, IHC has included a housing allowance in its operating budget, the release states.
Mitchell told The Times she’s excited about the collaboration with BU. The details are still being worked out.
Meanwhile, Mitchell said she is reaching out to Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Ed Markey to seek federal funding for the first 18 months of operational expenses.
IHC has grown from its early days in 2004 as Massachusetts’ first and only rural health clinic into an important cog in the Island’s healthcare services — most recently helping to manage the TestMV site during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mitchell said with the federal support IHC receives, it has the ability to take on the dental clinic, and that’s just part of the need IHC is looking to meet in the coming years.
Updated to include comments from Mitchell – Ed.