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ADA urges boost to IHS dental care

Washington—The Association urged Congress to shore up the Indian Health Service dental workforce against impending retirements "of the most experienced IHS dentists" with increased funding for recruitment and retention efforts.

"Dentists with residencies in pediatrics, oral surgery, and other dental specialties provide advanced oral health care to Indian people," Dr. John S. Findley, ADA president, told a House appropriations subcommittee in the Association's first testimony to the 111th Congress March 26, "With childhood cariesor tooth decayand periodontal disease among diabetics being rampant, these dentists are in high demand.

"However, 65 percent of them will be eligible for retirement this year. We urge the committee to increase the dental program line by $1 million for dental residencies and indicate that it is to continue as part of the base in future budgets. Additionally, the committee needs to specially allocate the use of these funds to the director of the IHS headquarters division of oral health," Dr. Findley testified. Allocation to the director for oral health would assure the monies are used exclusively for dental residencies, the Association said. Dr. Chris Halliday, oral health director, is also the U.S. Public Health Service chief dental officer.

The Association also encouraged additional support from Congress for IHS technology and recruitment of dental students for summer externships as a way of introducing them to the Indian Health Service. Dental recruiters attribute a recent increase in student applications to a new online application service which the IHS promotes at recruitment events and in ADA publications, Dr. Findley told the subcommittee. The IHS is also developing an electronic dental record system.

One thing Congress can do is take the lead on the IHS electronic dental record "and finish it up," said Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), who chaired the hearing. "Well, you have taken the lead on this and we appreciate it very much," Dr. Findley replied.

The Friends of Indian Health, a coalition of more than 50 health organizations including the ADA, said an outdated civil service pay scale also discourages recruitment of dental and other clinical support staff. Tribal witnesses cited such "immediate and necessary" health care delivery and disease-related problems as service cutbacks, declining physical facilities and administrative and natural barriers to care. One scheduled witness was stranded by snow in South Dakota. The Spirit Lake Tribe chairwoman told the panel she had to return to North Dakota to address "the devastating impact on the tribe" of recent flooding.