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$650,000 in donations to double Abingdon dental clinic's capacity

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ABINGDON, Va. – An Abingdon dental clinic unveiled plans for a major expansion Tuesday in conjunction with $650,000 in donations.

Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center revealed plans to expand its facilities, hire additional dentists and offer more services for patients across Southwest Virginia.  The clinic, which provides affordable oral health care to the underserved and uninsured, is the first recipient of dollars from the Wellspring Foundation.

 “The impact of this expansion for our sliding fee scale clinic will be staggering,” founder Dr. Scott Miller said during a the Tuesday morning ceremony. “Last year Appalachian Highlands Community Dental Center had more than 3,600 patients equating to a savings of $2.5 million for area residents. By 2026 we plan to treat 10,000 patients annually with an estimated cost savings to patients of $6.5 million.”

Work will begin this fall to expand the registered nonprofit clinic from 3,500 square feet to 7,000, doubling the number of dental chairs from seven to 14 and expanding from five doctors to seven once complete, Miller said. The clinic has seen about 6,500 patients in its three years of operation and hopes to treat 10,000 by 2026.

The clinic works with Johnston Memorial Hospital’s advanced education in general dentistry program.

“The first year we had one resident, the second year we had four, we had five the third year. We had 26 people apply for five positions last year,” Miller said. “I just selected five dentists out of an application pool of 51 people. If we can increase the numbers, we’ll educate more young dentists in advanced education of general dentistry and be able to take care of our local people.”

The clinic currently has a three- to four-month waiting list to be considered a new patient, and a four-month waiting list for new patients to receive services. They maintain a waiting list of more than 200 patients at any time, and typically receive 50 calls per day for assistance.

Wellspring Foundation Executive Director Sean McMurray said the project achieved all of the foundation’s goals.

“It was very easy to see why this project was such a good fit. It did everything we needed it to do. As these funds are used to expand the residency program, it will allow additional residents to work in the clinic,” McMurray said. “It’s good as we try to expand the number of dentists in Southwest Virginia; an essential service is offered for people in need – many with Medicaid or uninsured. It is a great project and we are pleased to be able to support it.”

Wellspring Board Chairman Bill Hayter also praised the project.

“This is just our first step in hopefully many steps of moving this foundation forward and improving health care in the region,” Hayter said. “When you think about the $500,000 invested here to help provide $6 million annually in service to the community, what a great investment.”

Wellspring, which was created with funds from the sale of Johnston Memorial Hospital, contributed $500,000. That will be combined with $100,000 from the Virginia Health Care Foundation and $50,000 from Jan Hurt.

“The mission is to use those funds to help improve the health of residents of Washington County and adjoining counties in Southwest Virginia,” McMurray said. “Our mission is focused on advancing the health care resources and other assets in this region to make a difference.”

Asked about future grants, McMurray said the foundation and its board are currently assessing the community’s health needs.

“We are in the process of planning. We are doing a very detailed community health needs assessment to help inform us about the health needs of the community and what the resources are. Then what we will try to do is convene groups to work on filling the gaps. It will depend on what the projects are. “

McMurray said there is no “specific timetable” to invest in projects, but they envision many more.

“A lot will be determined by the needs we find in the community and the partners we work with and what the schedules of the projects are. We know we have some wonderful resources to share and we look forward to that,” McMurray said. “We also know that the resources are not unlimited so, as a board and a foundation, we’ll be very focused on the things that deliver the most impact and have long-term value.”

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC | Facebook.com/david.mcgee.127

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