CNMI Healthcare Corporation To Reopen Dental Clinic

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Recent federal grant hoped to fund clinic for 3 years

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 24, 2012) – The Northern Marianas’ Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. said it will reinstate the dental clinic at the Commonwealth Health Center early next year following the approval of a nearly $500,000 federal grant.

The dental clinic at the Commonwealth's lone hospital was closed down this year as a result of the organization's financial challenges.

Division of Public Health director Roxanne Diaz disclosed that soon after the clinic's closure, the corporation immediately applied for an oral health grant and was recently awarded $470,000 by the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA. The money will fund the dental program for the next three years.

Diaz said this is the first time the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was awarded the HRSA oral health grant, just as the hospital needed it the most.

"In working with the CEO [Juan N. Babauta], we hope to reinstate the dental services by January," she said.

Also part of the grant is the hiring of a dentist who would not only serve Saipan but also the Rota and Tinian centers.

Diaz admits that the dental clinic does not generate a lot of revenue for the corporation but "it is still a revenue unit for the hospital."

When the dental clinic reopens, she estimates it to generate at least $178,000 in additional revenue.

Since the shutdown of the dental clinic, many low-income parents of mostly Head Start students have found it difficult to obtain a dental provider in the private sector as these clinics have stopped accepting Medicaid clients due the government's mounting receivables. Dental service is among the major requirements for children enrolling in the Head Start program of the Public School System (PSS).

Antonio Yarovwemal, PSS Head Start health, nutrition, and mental health manager, told Saipan Tribune yesterday that the dental clinic's closure posed a big challenge for Head Start this school year.

In fact, Yarovwemal said that Head Start was forced to hire a private company for $50,000 to provide dental service to its students for the school year.

Yarovwemal said the contracted provider has been going around schools since the opening of classes in September to provide dental services to students. He hopes reopening the hospital's dental clinic will be permanent.

"We don't want to bank on that re-opening. We need to sit down with Public Health and discuss what really needs to be done for our children. We need to make sure that this clinic will be permanent," he said.

Head Start is a federally funded program for children ages 3-5 years old. Each year, the program accommodates 462 enrollees.

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