Stimulus dollars used to expand RiverStone Health's dental program, buy X-ray machine

Billings Gazette

by Cindy Uken

With the help of $951,680 in stimulus money, RiverStone Health has doubled the size of its dental facilities and purchased a digital X-ray machine to replace the deteriorating 40-year-old model it had been using.

Expanding the number of dental chairs from five to 10 will bolster patient access, improve RiverStone’s ability to provide broader dental student rotations, and enhance its ability to recruit dentists.

The expansion also provides space for community dentists wanting to volunteer at RiverStone, the county’s public health agency, said Lil Anderson, president and CEO of RiverStone Health.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was among the first to tour the facility on Friday as workers scurried to add the finishing touches and dental students examined patients.

"It’s proof the stimulus works and is putting people to work,” Tester said. “This project kills two birds with one stone. It’s helps with the health care needs of the community while helping educate dentists for the future.”

Having an adequate facility to recruit dentists is especially important because RiverStone Health is designated as a Dental Health Professional Shortage Area. An estimated 32,123 people are underserved in Yellowstone County with regard to dental services. Yellowstone County does not treat the public water supply with fluoride, unlike other parts of the country, which exacerbates the poor oral health status of low-income people.

In a recent survey of RiverStone Health Clinic medical patients, 60 percent had not seen a dental professional during the past year. Three percent of respondents had not seen a dentist during their lifetime.

Part of the problem has been a lack of adequate dental services at RiverStone Health.

A recent audit showed an average of 30 people a day were turned away due to a lack of capacity.

The dental offices will not be fully staffed immediately, although RiverStone has been working with service-oriented dentists in the community who want to volunteer but have not been able to because of limited space.

One of the features of the expanded facility is the addition of a digital X-ray machine, which minimizes exposure to patients and is more in line with current medical practice.

The new model replaces the used one the local Shrine donated in 1999. It has been in constant need of repair and replacement parts have been increasingly difficult to find.
The expansion of dental services at RiverStone comes two years after President Barack Obama signed into law the federal stimulus program.

While some Montana counties saw as little as $430,000 in stimulus funds, Yellowstone County received more than $166 million of the $1.5 billion awarded so far in Montana.
Money from the stimulus program — officially the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — has gone to government agencies, schools, business, hospitals, universities and other groups.

While some of the funds went directly to new buildings, equipment and jobs, much of the money was doled out through state and federal programs to benefit health and human services, education and transportation.

So far, entities in Yellowstone County have received at least 207 contracts and grants.