The St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corporation (STEEMCC) will celebrate National Public Health Week with the opening of its new dental suite at 1 p.m., Friday, April 7, at Tutu Park Mall with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception. The new facility will enable the health center to increase dental services to 650 more patients in addition to the 4,000 who receive dental care, annually.
Following the closure of dental services by the V.I. Department of Health in 2012, providing dental care to those in vulnerable and unserved/underserved populations became the responsibility of the Virgin Islands’ federally-qualified health centers including STEEMCC.
The health center has seen an increase in patient load for dental care from 2,339 in 2012 to over 4,500 in 2016. The expansion will increase dental staff and improve access to preventive services for all patients.
The University of the Virgin Islands Caribbean Exploratory Research Center of Excellence conducted a health care needs assessment in 2015 which reported that over 50 percent of adults are missing permanent teeth. The report concluded that barriers that prevent most from seeking oral health/dental services include lack of insurance (including Medicaid), limited dental providers, and the separation of oral health from overall health care.
East End Medical Center currently provides oral health care with only two dental chairs, two dentists and two dental assistants. The process of expanding dental services began in 2014 with a $562,250 three-year capital improvement grant award from the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) for dental and clinical services expansion funneled through the Office of Management and Budget. Build-out for the new suite proceeded in 2015 following DOI approval of the health center’s preliminary plans and timelines.
It took approximately six months to renovate 3,700 sq. ft. of space next to the center court of Tutu Park Mall. It is outfitted with five dental chairs and state of the art equipment. A team including four dentists, selected from the National Health Scholars program, and two hygienists will complete the facility. In June 2016, the DOH made a long-awaited donation of a dental chair to support the expansion of the health center’s dental services.
Federal grant support continued in 2016 with $1,418,197 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources & Services Administration to address anticipated Zika-related health care needs and equip health centers to respond to urgent and emergency primary health care needs. The federal award of approximately $39 million was distributed through supplemental awards for use over a three-year period to eligible health center programs throughout Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.
A portion of the award issued to STEEMCC was utilized to complete the renovation and staffing of the new dental suite. According to Moleto A. Smith Jr., STEEMCC’s executive director, this expansion promises to revitalize oral health care on St. Thomas.
“We are extremely excited to be able to provide much needed dental services to the St. Thomas-St. John community. This is the first major expansion of public health services on St. Thomas and St. John in about 30 years,” he said.
Located in Tutu Park Mall, the St. Thomas East End Medical Center is a free-standing health center that serves all persons in the St. Thomas-John community. The health center aims to eliminate disparities in health care and to improve the health and wellness of the entire community.