Primary care, dental clinics open for business

Posted Feb. 15, 2009, at 5:53 p.m.

There have been a number of columns and stories in the Bangor Daily News in the last few weeks about the unfortunate closure of the city of Bangor’s dental health service and the problems in general with the health care system regarding access to care. I agree the loss of any dental service for the public in Maine is a blow and that folks have a hard time getting access to primary care. The people of Greater Bangor, however, should know that they can easily access dental and medical care in Bangor, regardless of their income or whether they have any insurance.

Penobscot Community Health Care, or PCHC, is a nonprofit community health care organization with 350 employees serving more than 42,000 patients at 14 clinics in Bangor, Old Town, Brewer, Hampden and Corinth. These clinics provide family medicine, or primary care, pediatrics, dental care, psychiatry, physical therapy and medical specialists such as podiatry and dermatology. PCHC also has two pharmacies for its patients to ensure they can purchase prescriptions at a price they can afford. Three of our medical and pediatric clinics are open seven days a week. There is physician coverage by telephone 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

All of PCHC’s clinics are open to new patients. In fact, PCHC provided care for more than 8,000 new medical patients and more than 3,300 new dental patients in 2008. Our doors are wide open to anyone needing outpatient medical or dental care. There is very little waiting time.

All PCHC’s clinics welcome people with MaineCare, Medicare, who are uninsured or underinsured and those with commercial insurance. Fees for lower income people for medical or dental care might be only $5 to $20 for a visit through our Affordable Care Program. Last year, PCHC provided almost three-quarters of a million dollars in free patient care. Our volunteer community board members are insistent that high-quality health care is available to every one of every age every day.

Last year, we provided dental care for more than 10,000 people. We have five dentists, as well as qualified dental externs and dental hygienists. We have 20 dental operatories. The PCHC Dental Clinic is not only the largest clinic north of Boston, it has the only accredited public General Practice Dental Residency in Maine with the first two residents arriving this summer. The dental community has supported the creation of PCHC’s dental clinic and the residency program has a number of private practice dentists in the Bangor area agreeing to serve as adjunct faculty. It will also help recruit many more young dentists to move to the Bangor area and Maine — when they become familiar with our wonderful region and state.

Our expansion of dental care includes the addition of a pedodontist who specializes in dental care for children beginning at 6 months old. This service complements the excellent comprehensive care for kids provided by PCHC’s Penobscot Pediatrics and will begin this summer.

This spring we will expand access to dental care through a new dental clinic in Old Town at the Helen Hunt Health Center.

PCHC recently received accreditation by the Joint Commission — which is the largest national organization reviewing patient care and safety standards for health care organizations. There is a national movement for health care organizations to demonstrate that their care is high quality and that they implement an electronic medical record system. PCHC about three years ago implemented an electronic medical record. We are the first private practice to develop a system in collaboration with both St. Joseph Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center that allows the emergency room practitioners to have access to the PCHC patient record electronically. This access will ensure better patient care as well as continuity.

PCHC provides family medicine, pediatric, dental, and physical therapy care for about 50,000 people a year — about half the people of Greater Bangor. We will provide 250,000 patient health care visits in 2009. No child, adult, or senior in Greater Bangor should go without the dental care or outpatient medical care they need. For an appointment at any of our 14 clinics, call Penobscot Community Health Care at 945-5247, or just walk in at our Dental Center at 1048 Union St. if you have dental pain.

The Rev. Robert T. Carlson is president of Penobscot Community Health Care.

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