The paint was barely dry at the DuPage County Health Department's expanded urgent care dental clinic when Gov. Pat Quinn announced a plan to scale back health care spending on the poor.
In the several months since, reforms of the state's Medicaid program have taken effect, including dramatic cuts to adult dental coverage. And DuPage health officials have seen increased demand for dental services.
DuPage's expanded urgent dental care clinic, which treats low-income county residents, opened in April. The following month, it saw 250 patients -- 65 more than the number treated in May 2011.
Officials say the clinic, located in the health department building in Wheaton, is on pace to serve 2,700 clients and provide 6,245 procedures for the year.
"We've been busy," said Mila Tsagalis, the department's assistant director of dental health. "The changes to Medicaid and the structure of the adult (dental) benefits have contributed a little bit to that."
DuPage's health department has been providing dental services since 1985, when it began a dental referral program that connects low-income, uninsured or underinsured residents with dental care and treatment. The department's current offerings include a dental sealant program for children, a mobile dental van and the urgent care clinic.
The expansion of the clinic was the largest in a series of improvements the health department made to meet growing demand. Because of the economic downturn, there's an increasing number of low-income residents in DuPage. There also are more people without dental insurance.
"Expanding the clinic was something that we needed to do to keep up with capacity and maintain our ability to see patients in a reasonable amount of time," Tsagalis said.
Last year, dentists at the urgent care clinic treated 2,235 clients and performed 5,376 procedures. The redesign will allow the dental staff to increase the number of patient visits to more than 4,000 each year within two to three years, officials said.
"I think it's pretty safe to say that we'll have consistent growth," Tsagalis said.
As part of the expansion, the number of treatment rooms has been increased from two to five. All the rooms have new dental chairs and equipment.
In addition to doubling the waiting room area, dental program staff members moved into a space next to the clinic. Officials said that will make it easier to consult with clients and make referrals during non-clinic times.
The expansion happened as dental services were cut statewide by lawmakers trying to reduce costs.
Before reforms took effect, adult Medicaid recipients were able to get regular dental care. Now only their emergency dental treatments are covered.
DuPage's urgent care dental clinic receives part of its funding from the health department. It also generates revenue from the procedures done there.
Patients without Medicaid or insurance benefits pay for their treatment on a sliding fee scale.
"We match the patients, according to their income, to what they can pay," Tsagalis said.
When the state's Medicaid changes were announced, some expressed concern that reducing adult dental coverage could cause patients to delay care and eventually find themselves in emergency situations.
To prevent that from happening to affected DuPage residents, Tsagalis said the health department is hoping to raise public awareness about the clinic and its other dental services.
"There's a whole bunch of new people out there that may be wondering where they are going to get their dental care," Tsagalis said. "We don't want them going to the emergency room."