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New dental clinic in west Bloomington aims to reduce health disparities

Dave Sharar
Eric Stock
Chestnut CEO Dave Sharar announced plans for a new dental clinic in Bloomington during a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

Chestnut Health Systems plans to bring a dental clinic to west Bloomington to provide dental care to people on Medicaid and those without insurance.

Chestnut has received $430,000 from the federal government to help pay for the site.

Chestnut Dental Clinic
Eric Stock
Chestnut Health Systems plans to open a dental clinic next year at 720 W. Chestnut St. in Bloomington, next to the Chestnut Family Health Center.

“Dental care is probably one of the biggest health disparities we have in McLean County and other places,” Chestnut CEO Dave Sharar said at a Tuesday news conference at Chestnut’s Family Health Center, located next door to where the dental clinic will be built at 720 W. Chestnut St.

Total cost of the clinic, expected to open next year, is estimated at $1.3 million. Sharar said it also will include funding through the John M. Scott Commission from the city of Bloomington, the Delta Dental Foundation and the Medicaid Innovation Collaborative, a state-funded program that aims to improve access to health care for low-income residents.

Sharar said Bloomington-Normal hospital emergency rooms get 1,500 patients every year who need dental care because they have no other place to go for treatment and they end up with stop-gap care.

“What really can the (emergency department) do with dental, other than prescribe an antibiotic or a pain med and try to link that patient with a dental resource,” Sharar said. “That’s not really treatment. It’s just addressing the pain.”

Sharar said a majority of the clinic patients will likely be on Medicaid, noting many dentists won't take Medicaid patients.

“There are a lot of dentists with good will, but the (Medicaid reimbursement) rate on dental is so low it doesn’t come close to covering their costs,” Sharar explained, adding the dentists who offer charity care are only able to treat a small fraction of the people who need it.

Sharar said lack of access to care is most harmful to minorities, people with disabilities and those with low income.

Rodney Davis speaking at news conference
Eric Stock
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis requested funding for Chestnut Health Systems to help fund a new dental clinic in Bloomington.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., requested the $430,000 last year. It was included in a list of projects approved for Community Project Funding (CPF), Congress’s replacement for earmarks. Davis called the funding a sound investment because it will provide care to people who have been unable to get health insurance.

Davis, of Taylorville, slammed the Affordable Care Act and said it was wrong that more than 50 million Americans still lack access to health care coverage. “We can give every single American access to Medicaid, right? But if they can’t go get care with the coverage they have, what good is that? Expect a waste of your taxpayer dollars,” Davis said.

The CPF funding was included in a larger omnibus appropriations bill that Davis voted against in March. He voted for defense spending included in the bill, but said at the time the social projects "lacked adequate spending controls and limits on the Biden Administration’s executive powers."

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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