Grants to expand dental services for low-income families

Grants to expand dental services for low-income families

CHAMPAIGN – Plans to expand dental services for local low-income families are moving ahead with the help of grant money from the Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation.

Two Champaign County programs, SmileHealthy and Frances Nelson Health Center, will receive two of the 12 grants being awarded this year.

In all, the foundation is giving $2.4 million to 12 Illinois organizations to create new programs or expand existing ones to increase access to oral health care.

Frances Nelson Health Center, Champaign, is receiving $320,500 to help pay for remodeling to open a dental clinic for low-income children and adults.

The United Way of Champaign County, which is helping with fund-raising for this new clinic, hopes to see it open in the last quarter of next year, according to United Way Chief Executive Lyn Jones.

Fund-raising is still in progress she said.

SmileHealthy, a dental program for needy children in Champaign County, is receiving $34,000 to establish a program and network in which low-income Central Illinois children who need dental work done under anesthesia in the hospital can get it.

Those children may include kids who need a lot of dental work at once, or who have a disability that would make it difficult to receive dental care in a dentist's office, said Nancy Greenwalt, SmileHealthy's executive director.

Greenwalt said access to specialty care for children in the state's Medicaid health care system is "difficult, if not impossible."

Many dentists decline to treat patients on Medicaid because of the state's poor track record for paying providers.

With the state grant, she said, SmileHealthy will work with public health departments in Champaign, Edgar, Douglas, DeWitt and Piatt counties to create a network in which public health dentists would provide services in hospitals at minimal cost to the hospitals and Medicaid would be billed to cover expenses.

Greenwalt said she hopes to see this network in place so that needy children could begin getting dental services in hospitals by early next year.

The Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation, focused on health needs of Illinois children, is in its fourth year of awarding grants though a $20 million oral health initiative.