Too many patients and not enough dentists are making for long waits and short tempers at the Shasta Community Health Dental Center.
Shasta Community Health Center Dental Director Franklin Pierce said that patient numbers have fluctuated in his 16 years at the center, but for the first time, he feels like he’s drowning.
“I was the only provider here last Thursday, and it felt like a tidal wave,” Pierce said. “I literally felt like I was drowning because I get someone who needs something from me, who needs treatment or care, and I can do just the minimal amount to paper over their problem and move on to the next person, because if I focus two hours for this one person, no one else gets any care.”
Emergency and walk-in adults will no longer be added to the wait list to become established patients. Children or anyone with an emergency will still be seen.
Children make up 40 to 45 percent of the patients.
“What we’re doing is basically what you call triage,” Pierce said. “We open the doors some days and there are ten, even, twelve people waiting for emergency care on top of our full schedule.”
When asked what’s causing the overflow, Pierce gave several reasons.
Pierce said that Denti-Cal for adults has been re-established by the state. He also said the effects of the Affordable Care Act could be bringing in more patients. The Center itself is also slightly understaffed, but Pierce said that even a full staff wouldn’t be enough.
Most private dentists won’t take Medi-Cal patients, and Pierce doesn’t blame them. Pierce said that Medi-Cal reimburses about 20 cents on the dollar.
“We're just doing crisis management,” Pierce said. “It's hard emotionally sometimes too, because you have these people in pain and need, and you want to fix them and you want to help them, and there's only so much that I can do, and so much that we can do."