OlyCAP announced on Jan. 27 the suspension of oral health services at its Port Angeles clinic as of Feb. 28.
The clinic, located at 228 W. First St., will not accept appointments past Feb. 18 as it prepares for shutdown.
“We will mothball the offices at least until we learn whether our application for status as a Federally Qualified Health Center has been approved,” said OlyCAP executive director Tim Hockett.
The clinic opened in 2006 and was hailed for its innovative partnership with Pierce and Peninsula colleges both to provide oral health services and to train dental hygienists on the peninsula. Patients were charged sliding-scale fees according to income and the clinic was one of few area dental services that accepted Medicaid patients.
“Fees were never intended to cover the full costs of services,” Hockett said. “We supplemented fees by aggressively searching for external funds to subsidize care.”
Other support for patient care came from private donations, volunteer services by area dentists and partner organizations such as Olympic Medical Center, Pierce and Peninsula colleges and United Way and United Good Neighbors.
Local and state governments also contributed. The State Health Care Authority provided about $150,000 annually to support the sliding fees and funded Medicaid services for oral health that made up a substantial part of the clinic’s business.
Local governments in Sequim and Port Angeles contributed thousands of dollars to help support the service for area residents.
OlyCAP offered dental services through mobile vans and a network of volunteer dentists prior to the opening of the clinic and managed a few hundred visits every year. Between 2006-2010, the clinic grew into a large practice. In 2010, there were more than 5,500 patient appointments and more than 1,000 dental emergency visits.
The clinic provided more than $1.4 million in care at customary local fees. About $460,000 in sliding-scale fees were charged to patients, but with many patients well below the poverty level, only about $365,000 was collected.
Support through external funds made up the difference and allowed the clinic to operate.
“Suspending the service is a huge blow for health care access in the community,” he said. “In a very real sense, we are victims of our own success.“
Clinic partners have been notified of the closure and plans are under way to notify patients, OlyCAP officials said.
The facility will be maintained so it can be reopened under the health center model and OlyCAP officials are working with Pierce and Peninsula colleges to find some way of maintaining the educational support
for the dental hygiene program.