Situated among the stunning beauty of the rugged mountains and breathtaking mesas of southwest Colorado sits Uncompahgre Medical Clinic- a clinic on the forefront of offering a truly integrated model of health care by providing medical, dental and mental health care under the same roof.
“At UMC, we serve as the primary care office, urgent care, ER and dentist office for more than 2,500 people in rural southwest Colorado. We serve an area the size of Delaware or Rhode Island with patients living in more than 10 different zip codes,” explained Steven Siegel, executive director of UMC.
But it wasn’t always that way. Prior to 2008, there was no one in a 3,000 square mile radius providing subsidized dental care for adults and the only dentist in Norwood, where UMC is located, worked two days a week and didn’t accept Medicaid or CHP+.
“For parts of our community, we were talking years of oral health neglect that grew to become generations of neglect,” said Siegel. “We identified an unmet need and took steps to meet that need. In the beginning, it truly was a shoestring operation. Our dentists worked out of 700 square feet and for a year were the only dental providers in town after Norwood’s only private practice dental office closed.”
A Colorado CPPD grant and funding from Caring for Colorado got the dental program started. Today, funding from Caring for Colorado and others continues. The dental clinic is served by one full time dentist and two part time dentists as well as one dental hygienist. Sixty percent of patients receive some form of subsidized care and 73 percent are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
It is not uncommon to see blood pressure and early diabetes checks taking place in the dental chair, pregnant women coming over from the medical clinic to receive prenatal dental care and children laughing as they receive dental exams in their parents’ laps before heading to the other side of UMC for their well-child check.
“We are out in the schools providing basic oral health education, giving kids tooth brushes who don’t have them,” explained Siegel. “We are fitting a woman under thirty with dentures and along with that building self confidence and increasing job opportunities. We are striving to make a difference in our community each day by providing integrated, quality, cost effective care to those in need.”