The East Central Community Center is a hub providing food, education, housing and job resources for locals in East Central, and starting next year, dental care can be added to that list.
By late spring or early summer 2020, a new dental clinic will sit on the southwest corner of the block that the community center sits on, at the corner of Hartson Avenue and Lee Street. CHAS will operate the clinic, as part of a public-private partnership with the city. The project has been years in the making.
“If they have kids that go here, you know, it’s a lot easier to pick them up here and walk across a parking lot, than it is to pick them up here and drive for another 10 to 15 minutes outside of your neighborhood to access services,” said Freda Gandy, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, which runs the community center. “So families are going to find it very convenient.”
Gandy is excited to see the dental clinic built because it will help decrease barriers to entry for parents bringing their children to Early Head Start, which accepts 1- to 3-year-olds, or the MLK Jr. Center’s early childhood education program, which is for 4- and 5-year-olds.
As a part of both programs, kids need wellness and dental check-ups to stay enrolled, Gandy said. Usually, parents would have to take their kids off-site and take time off work to do this. In a year, families won’t even have to load up the car to access dental care.
“I can say, ‘Well, we have a partnership with CHAS: We’ll just take the whole class on a field trip,’ ” Gandy said. “Parents don’t have to worry about that piece of having to take off work or stress out about meeting that requirement. That’s going to be amazing for the families that we serve.”
Gandy estimates that about 2,000 families access services at the site, including from all of the partner organizations leasing space at the East Central Community Center.
The dental clinic will be open and available to the whole neighborhood, making it easier for CHAS customers who live in the area to access care.
CHAS, a federally qualified health center provider in the Spokane area with multiple clinics, offers care to whomever walks in its doors, including those with or without insurance and those on Medicaid. Often, Medicaid and Medicare recipients do not seek out dental services.
Only 39% (or about 75,000) of more than 189,000 people in Spokane County who could use their Medicaid dental benefits actually do, state Health Care Authority data from fiscal-year 2018 show. That number drops to just 23% of adults over the age of 21 who use their Medicaid dental benefits in the county.
The new dental clinic will be built from the ground up, once the old modular building on the southwest corner of the community center block is torn down. The plan, Gandy said, is to expand the south part of the center’s main building to accommodate more early education classrooms for Early Head Start.
Across the parking lot, a seven-room, 4,000-square-foot dental clinic will be built. If all goes according to plan, it will be open by late spring or early summer 2020. The construction costs are estimated at $1.7 million, said Carly Cortright, director of neighborhood and business services with the city of Spokane.
Funding for the clinic comes from local, state and federal sources, creating a stop-and-go timeline that has slowed down the construction process.
A Washington Department of Commerce grant from a specific bucket of dental capacity funds provided $485,000 in state funding. The city Community Housing and Human Services board allocated $750,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding to the clinic, and the city plans to take out a Spokane Investment Pool loan to cover the rest. Cortright said the SIP loan would be paid back through lease payments from CHAS, and the plan at the end of a decade (and in the loan agreement) is to sell CHAS the building.
“That’s the nice thing about the public-private partnerships. … The city doesn’t know anything about running a dental clinic, but we’re in a position to get the funding to build it and turn over the operations to an organization that can run it,” Cortright said. “That’s a win-win.”
The Spokane City Council will vote on the first phase of the East Central dental clinic at its next meeting on Monday. Council members will be voting to approve the use of the Department of Commerce grant for the new clinic.
Wolfe Architectural Group won the bid process for the design of the new clinic and is in contract discussions with the city. Once Wolfe finishes design plans, the city will issue another request for proposal for a builder, and once the city council approves the builder, construction can begin.
Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Democrat from Spokane, said he is anxious to see the clinic built in East Central. Riccelli, for his part, started tossing around the idea of state funding for clinics several years ago. In 2018, he worked with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to get dental capacity grants funded at a state level, allowing localities to apply for funds to increase dental hygiene and care access across the state.
“The East Central area where that dental clinic is going in particular is a high dental-shortage area, and Spokane County hits the map as a dental-shortage area on a number of fronts, so to me, it’s really important we provide access,” Riccelli said.
Riccelli, who also works for CHAS, only worked on the dental clinic in his role as a lawmaker, not in his work at CHAS, to avoid conflicts of interest, he said.
CHAS has also applied for a federal grant to pay for the dental equipment inside the clinic.
“It just opens up that access, and it’s a place where people go and we want to meet people where they’re at,” Riccelli said.
Gandy, with the MLK Jr. Center, said the clinic will enable families to get preventative dental care as opposed to urgent or reactive care.
“You know when you’re living in poverty, it may not be the first, initial thing on your mind. Everyone seems fine, no one is in any excruciating pain, why should I go to the dentist?” she said. “So we talk to parents about preventative care, what that looks like. Identifying anything early is wonderful.”
In a year, preventative care will only be a short walk across the parking lot for families that access services at East Central Community Center, potentially knocking down another barrier to entry.
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