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Rural PA Dental Clinics Cut Hours Due To Uncertain Federal Funding

Jessica Hill
Medicaid patient Rachel Bogartz has her teeth cleaned at a dental office in Bethel, Conn. In Pennsylvania, two rural clinic are having to reduce hours because of instability with federal funding.

Two dental clinics in northern Pennsylvania have reduced hours due to the instability of federal funding.

Keystone Rural Health Consortia operates the clinics in Elk and Cameron counties. The Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers said KRHC is one of 50 community health centers in the state.

Congress allowed funding for these community health centers to lapse back in October and gridlock has prevented lawmakers from delivering longer-term funding support to these clinics. Temporary monthly funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration will expire at the end of March. 

Keystone Rural Health Consortia’s CEO Kristie Bennardi said these cuts wouldn’t be necessary if federal support, which accounts for a fourth of its total budget, was assured.

“We need a long-term budget plan, we need level funding and we need a guarantee of that very soon, before more health centers end up closing,” she said.

In addition to reducing clinic hours, staff work weeks at KRHC were cut from 40 to 37.5 hours, and a dental hygienist and lab tech were laid off.

Some advocates said they’re hopeful funding will be reauthorized for another two years soon. But Bennardi said her organization needs to figure out how to be sustainable without federal money.

“We’re going to keep all these changes in place, for the short term at least, to try to build up some reserves for when we face this again in two years—if that’s how long they extend it,” she said. "It's really about responsibly financially planning for the now, and for the future."

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports community health centers provide primary care for one out of every 12 U..S residents.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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