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Central Illinois ER Referral Program Expands

September 11, 2015 


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A community-wide program in Effingham, Ill., that connects people suffering from untreated dental disease with the dentists who can help them has expanded significantly during the past year.

St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital and Effingham Catholic Charities last year teamed up with two local dentists and an oral surgeon to help get people out of the emergency room and into the dentist’s chair. The program has now expanded to seven participating dentists and an oral surgeon, who together treat an average of about 15 people per month, according to Carrie Crippen, office manager of Effingham Catholic Charities.

“Most of the people tend to have severe cavities or broken teeth,” she said. “They are always so grateful for the pain relief.”

A group of people comprising the community group Alliance for a Healthier Effingham County first noticed the trend of poor, working-age adults turning to the local hospital’s emergency room when the pain of dental disease becomes unbearable, according to Dr. Charles Horin, who participates in the emergency room referral program.

“There’s really nothing the emergency room can do,” he said. “Emergency room staff aren’t equipped to extract teeth. They can basically prescribe patients antibiotics and put them on a pain pill, which does nothing but kick the can down the road.”

The program draws the working poor from the surrounding six counties that hospital serves. To qualify, patients must be 18 or older and at 185 percent or less of the federal poverty level. They are eligible for one extraction per year, and during the second year, some patients have returned for a second extraction.

“Recently, a young lady walked in and looked like she had a softball stuffed in her cheek,” said Ms. Crippen. “She was in so much pain, but she couldn’t afford treatment. Through our community program, she was able to receive an emergency tooth extraction at a local dentist’s office.”

The program continues to be successful because it is funded by the hospital, said Dr. Horin.

Nationally, the number of dental visits to hospital emergency rooms doubled from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2012. Emergency room visits cost three times as much as dental visits, costing the health system $1.6 billion annually.