U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin toured the new Erie Health Center in Evanston this afternoon and hosted a roundtable discussion on affordable access to dental care.
As a young patient received care in one of the center’s five dental suites, Dr. Lisa Kearney, clinical director of oral health at Erie, described the center’s services.
Asked by Durbin about the cost of an education for dentists, Kearney said many dentists now emerge from training with $200,000 to $400,000 in college debt. “It’s bonkers crazy,” she added.
Durbin listens to Dr.Lisa Kearney.
Dentists in private practice make a lot more than they would at a center like Erie, Kearney said, but “I think people who work at community health centers are drawn to them because they want to help people.”
In addition, she said, there’s a loan forgiveness program for doctors working in health centers. That program can reduce their debt by $25,000 to $35,000 a year, depending on their specialty.
Dr. Avery Hart, the medical director at Erie’s Evanston site, said the center, which opened last fall, uses a shared service with other facilities across the country that provides interpeters for patients who don’t speak English.
“So I call and say I need a Mongolian interpeter,” Hart said, “and 30 to 60 seconds later they’re back on the line — ‘here’s your Mongolian interpreter.'”
Hart also praised the design of the examining rooms at the center, which are set up so that — instead of facing a wall to type notes into a desktop computer, the physicians can use a laptop and be facing the patient — maintaining better eye contact.
Durbin, who was instrumental in getting federal funding to create the center was presented with an award from the National Association of Community Health Centers by Erie’s Director, Dr. Lee Francis.
Francis said that community health centers now serve one of every 12 Illinois residents and reduce costs and improve efficiency in the delivery of health care.
At the roundtable session, Jane Grover, director of prevention and interprofessional relations for the American Dental Association, urged Durbin to support fluoridation of community water supplies as a way to prevent dental cavities.
“You mean it’s not a communist conspiracy?” Durbin joked in response.
Grover then said Chicago water, which is fluoridated, is the best tasting water in the country, and got a quick challenge from Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who insisted Evanston’s water is actually the best tasting.
Evanston’s water supply has also been fluoridated for decades despite occasional complaints from a handful of residents about the practice.
Durbin said health centers like Erie are essential to providing good dental care — and can even reduce the abuse of prescription painkillers..
Too often patients without dental coverage end up in an emergency room on a Sunday afternoon, complaining of “the worst toothache of my life,” Durbin said. And an emergency room physician prescribes Oxycontin — “which is on the street within minutes.”
Tisdahl praised Erie for its ability to provide care to the entire family. “As a parent, you can call and schedule a visit with a dentist, with a pediatrician, and can be seen yourself — all at the same time,” Tisdahl said. “We’re not only providing great, quality health care, but we’re making it easy, very easy.”