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Working Poor in Central Illinois Community Receive Relief from Dental Pain

August 5, 2014

In one central Illinois community, many low-income, working adults struggle to receive necessary dental care. 

In Effingham, a town of about 12,000 people, many working-age adults turn to the local hospital’s emergency room when the pain of dental disease becomes unbearable. But most hospitals can’t provide comprehensive care, so the problem often isn’t solved. 

To remedy the problem, St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital and Effingham Catholic Charities teamed up with local dentists to help get people out of the emergency room and into the dentist’s chair.

“They’re coming from all different avenues,” said Kathy Adams, office manager of Effingham Catholic Charities. “Some have read about the program, some are referred to the program by the hospital, and some find out about it from friends.”

The program draws the working poor from seven counties in central Illinois. 

“The patients are really people in the 20 to 40 age range,” said Dr. Brian Balda, one of the dentists participating in the program. “On average we see about eight to 10 people per month from this program.”

Dentists who participate in the program agree to a limited number of extractions per patient each year at a reduced cost, Dr. Balda said. 

“Catholic Charities provides each person with a voucher,” Dr. Balda said. “We provide an examination and an X-ray, and at that point in time we either take out the tooth, or if we don’t feel comfortable, then we refer the patient to an oral surgeon.” 

Dr. Balda and his colleagues have been participating in the program for about four months, he noted.

“It’s been an amazingly positive experience for the people who have benefited from it,” said Ms. Adams. “A lot of these people are just struggling, and I know they’ve been very receptive to the care they receive.”

The state cut all adult dental Medicaid benefits except emergency care in 2012, but Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in June signed into law a Medicaid expansion bill that will restore many dental benefits through $2.4 billion that the state expects to receive from the federal government.