15 Years After Opening, Northern Dental Access Center Sees Continuous Need for Affordable Rural Care
In 2008, a group of people in Bemidji came together after noticing the disparities of rural dental care.
This month, Jeanne Larson, the executive director of the non-profit Northern Dental Access Center, is celebrating 15 years of working to bridge the gap of accessible dental care for low-income communities. Individuals like Larson have assisted in working with the non-profit’s board and other local organizations to have a place for low-income families to access dental care.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Larson says the number of people who use Medicaid has gone up 30% and that within driving distance of Bemidji, there are about 90,000 of those people. Critical Access Care Centers like Northern Dental Access Center often do receive a majority of their funding through Medicaid reimbursements. That is due to the higher rate they receive than the private practices who, sometimes, do not accept Medicaid, which cuts off an option for these low-income communities.
Since opening up in their Anne Street location, Northern Dental Access Center has expanded three times in that site alone. But due to the high-demand of patients in the area, the expansions are not complete yet.
Currently, Northern Dental Access Center is working with Becker County to establish a satellite clinic in Frazee. They are also looking at updating their main Bemidji building to accommodate the rising number of patient visits. The number of patient encounters reached a high for Northern Dental Access Center in 2019, with the annual report showing 30,300 encounters. The number fell during the pandemic due to restrictions, but it has gone up once more, hitting a reported 27,500 patients in 2022.
Although Northern Dental Access Center is planning to expand, the work done by Critical Access dental programs has hardly scratched the surface of rural healthcare needs. However, their reach can still be felt for the patients from the over 26 counties in both North Dakota and Minnesota.
The state is also looking at tackling this issue. In the proposed Health Finance Omnibus Bill, H.F. 2930/S.F. 2995, there are provisions to allow funds for critical access dental infrastructure projects.
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