Dental and infant health programs considered in county budget

Dental and infant health programs considered in county budget
May 25
04:00 2017

Funding for a dental clinic and a program that’s helped reduce infant mortality are among the things being considered in Forsyth County’s budget for next fiscal year.

Both the Cleveland Avenue Dental Center and the Nurse-Family Partnership rely on grants from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust that have ended. Now county commissioners are considering adding both these health department programs into the county’s $420 million budget.

The dental center mainly serves Medicaid patients. Medicaid’s reimbursement for providers are so low, many dentists won’t participate in the program because they’d lose money.

The county took over the dental center from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in 2008. It sustained itself the first few years but then started to lose money. A nearly $1 million two-year grant in 2014 solved that problem for a couple of years, letting the clinic operate in the black. Leftover grant funds reduced this year’s loss to $246,757. Next fiscal year, with no grant money, it’s estimated to be $326,293.

“It doesn’t survive without those kinds of subsidies,“ County Manager Dudley Watts told county commissioners at a budget presentation last week.

Watts said when the county took over the clinic, commissioners directed him that they didn’t want it to run at a loss. He said they have two options now: subsidize it or phase it out.

The commissioners are considering subsidizing it next fiscal year while a long-term solution is found. Watts said one possibility is instead of paying contractors for dental services in the county jail, to use the money for the dental center and use its staff to provide inmate dental care. Another possibility might be to partner with United Health Centers, which, as a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center, gets better reimbursement rates for dental services.

Dental center staff estimated they averaged 513 patients a month this fiscal year and that most of those patients are minorities.

Nurse Family-Partnership lets nurses visit the homes of vulnerable first-time mothers living in poverty.  Among its goals is improving the health of the infant and mother.  Forsyth County used to have infant mortally rates above the state average, which was 10.2 deaths per 1,000 live births when the program began in 2012. In 2014 and 2015, Forsyth had a historically low infant mortality rate of 6.2. Most of its funding came from KBR but it does have enough money to sustain itself for several more months. It’ll cost the county $338,000 to fund it through the rest of the fiscal year.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon said that funding the program wasn’t negotiable for him.

“We’ve got to do something for the Nurse Family-Partnership, or I’m not going to vote for the budget,” said Witherspoon.

Joe Crocker, director of KBR’s Poor and Needy Division said that the two grants were meant to fund the programs for a limited period of time.  In the case of the dental center, it was to help it stay solvent as it improved its financial situation. The Nurse-Family grant was to allow time for the county to make room in the budget for the program if it was successful. The county can apply for additional grants.  On Tuesday, commissioners indicated they plan to continue to seek partial KBR funding on the Nurse-Family Partnership.

The county could finalize and approve the budget as early as today, May 25. It’ll go into effect on July 1.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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