Hawley dental clinic has spent 20 years bringing out low-income, elderly smiles
Hawley, Minn. Mike and Roxi Hoiland have four young mouths to feed and four young mouths to fix when something goes wrong. But for years, the latter didn't happen because the Hoilands, of Winger, Minn., couldn't find a dentist willing to treat a ...
Mike and Roxi Hoiland have four young mouths to feed and four young mouths to fix when something goes wrong.
But for years, the latter didn't happen because the Hoilands, of Winger, Minn., couldn't find a dentist willing to treat a family that was on medical assistance.
"It's impossible to get in," Roxi Hoiland said.
"We were very fortunate to have found this place," Mike Hoiland said, referring to the Apple Tree Dental clinic in Hawley, where the Hoilands and their four daughters, ages 12 to 16, spent the better part of a day last week having work done on their teeth.
Apple Tree Dental, a Minnesota nonprofit, is marking 20 years of providing dental care for low-income and elderly clients.
And the need has been great, according to Michael Helgeson, Apple Tree chief executive officer.
"Minnesota has a huge statewide dental access problem. Most people in the general public don't understand that," Helgeson said.
"Our patients are people who would likely go without any dental care if we weren't there," he added. "We're talking about people that have disabilities or chronic health problems. We're also talking about low-income families and children that have difficulty getting into traditional dental offices."
One reason, Helgeson said, is that many dentists limit the number of low-income clients they will take because state reimbursements often cover less than half the cost of care.
Another factor is a shortage of dentists that stems from the 1980s, when the federal government cut tuition support for students entering dentistry, Helgeson said.
Of all the states, Minnesota has seen the greatest drop in the dentist-to-population ratio, he said.
Apple Tree Dental operates because of a broad base of support from corporations, individuals and foundations, Helgeson said.
Besides the clinic in Hawley, which opened in 1997, Apple Tree has sites in Coon Rapids and Madelia, and it provides on-site care at more than 100 sites around the state, including Head Start programs.
With three full-time dentists and one part-time doctor, the Hawley clinic handled more than 15,000 dental visits last year, Helgeson said.
People drive as long as four hours to make an appointment, officer manager Suzanne Horn said, adding new patients may have to wait months to get in.
Emergencies, however, are given priority.
"We had a little boy just the other day. He broke one of his front teeth and he couldn't get in anywhere else," Horn said.
Those on the waiting list get a break if someone cancels, which happens frequently because transportation is a problem for many clients.
Tori Schmit, 28, of Fargo said she was turned away from several dental offices because she didn't have private insurance.
"Hardly any dentists take Medicaid and the ones that do see only a few patients," she said.
When a worker at a dental office suggested she try Apple Tree, Schmit wasted no time in calling.
"This is the second appointment I've had this week (at Apple Tree). They got me in right away," she said.
The Hoilands said they are impressed by the clinic's willingness to schedule the entire family for the same day, saving them time and gasoline.
"This will be the first time in probably four to five years that we've had our kids to the dentist," Mike Hoiland said.
"They're nice here," his wife added. "The doctors are good with the kids."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555