MICHIGAN CITY | A clinic serving people with little or no insurance has added dental care to its line-up of services.
HealthLinc expects more than 5,600 visits this year to the dental clinic it opened earlier this month, chief operating officer Deb Hickman said.
A burgeoning need for affordable dental care led to the creation of the clinic, a remodeled space inside the HealthLinc facility, 710 Franklin St., Hickman said.
A 2005 study found just 59 percent of LaPorte County adult residents visited a dentist, and a number of area school children are among those currently in need of dental care, Hickman said.
"There's a lack of dental care availability, especially among the (medically) underserved with no insurance," Hickman said. "Their access to care was so prohibitive."
HealthLinc, which also operates the former Hilltop community health center in Valparaiso, remodeled space within the Michigan City facility at a cost of more than $100,000 to equip it for dental care, Hickman said.
A local dentist donated equipment to help make the transition possible, Hickman said.
One full-time dentist and a second who splits time between the Valparaiso and Michigan City HealthLinc clinics will handle dental care at the new facility, which houses three dental chairs.
"Our dream is to be able to get funding somehow for two more dental chairs and then recruit one more dentist," HealthLinc Chief Executive Officer Beth Wrobel said.
HealthLinc clinics provide basic health care to people who are uninsured or underinsured, and clients pay on a sliding scale based on income.
Community health clinics like HealthLinc have seen patient loads climb as people lose jobs or health insurance, or both, in the deepening economic downturn.
The agency's Valparaiso facility expects as many as 52,000 patient visits this year, up from 32,000 in 2008 and 15,000 a year earlier.
"The volume of patients we've seen is just phenomenal," Hickman said.