PITTSFIELD — Community Health Programs will take over and expand Berkshire Medical Center's Dental Clinic this fall.
With the help of a $350,000 federal grant, CHP will assume the operation of the clinic at 510 North St. in Pittsfield, by Oct. 14, both Berkshire Health Systems, BMC's parent company, and Great Barrington-based CHP announced on Monday.
A federally qualified health center, CHP will upgrade and expand the dental clinic to meet the requirements of the federal grant, and will integrate dental operations with that facility's existing primary care practice, CHP-Neighborhood Health Center.
"It's a collaboration, but we're actually turning over the entire running of the dental clinic to CHP," said BMC Chief Operating Officer Diane Kelly, noting that the hospital has previously taken this route with other medical practices.
"CHP is better qualified because of things they have access to," she said.
Kelly said the hospital's dental clinic sees about 5,000 patients per year, but she expects that number to increase under CHP's control. As a federally qualified health center, CHP is not subject to the federal tort claims law, the statute that malpractice claims are filed under.
"A major expenditure in any major dental practice is the insurance," said Lia Spiliotes, CHP's interim executive director.
It's to early to determine what that patient increase will be, Spiliotes said.
"I think it's hard to tell until we've had a little more time with the operation," she said. "We haven't really been privy to the operation to date. I don't think it will take us to long to sort that out."
"Dental care is very important to people's overall health," Kelly said. "The mission of the BMC Dental Clinic has always been access to quality care for people who have no dental coverage and those who don't have a regular dentist and can come in with no appointment."
The clinic will work to recruit new dentists, the release said; the four current residents and the director of the program will all be retained.
And it will continue to utilize the expertise of the BMC Dental Residency program, which helps to staff the clinic. The residency is accredited by the American Dental Association and provides advanced education in oral health care.
This is the latest collaboration between CHP and BHS. In December, CHP assumed operation of the former Adams Internists and Northern Berkshire Family Medicine, giving the federally qualified health center's network a presence in Northern Berkshire County.
Previously, the former BMC Neighborhood Health Center in Pittsfield was transitioned to a CHP federally qualified health center.
The latest federal grant was awarded by the Health Resources Services Administration, which provides about 20 percent of CHP's funding.
"Berkshire Health Systems is pleased to continue our collaborative relationship with Community Health Programs as we work together to provide enhanced care services to all who live and work in the Berkshires," said David Phelps, president and CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, in a prepared statement. "CHP and BHS continue to invest in these essential health services to provide greater access to care, right here in the Berkshires."
Spiliotes said CHP will carry on the BMC practice with few changes, aside from a facility expansion and certain federally mandated improvements. The affiliation makes good sense for the organization, which already operates a Great Barrington-based dental practice, she said.
"CHP has made some excellent strategic collaborations to strengthen its health network throughout Berkshire County, and to improve residents' access to health care, with support from BHS," she said in the release. "With this new dental clinic under our umbrella, CHP is now in a position to focus strongly on existing practices and services, and to make improvements wherever possible to enhance patient care and improve access.
In addition, the affiliation will expand CHP's participation in medical education and residency programs.
The dental clinic is staffed by resident dentists from the BMC program, three dental assistants and a receptionist who is also certified as a dental assistant. There will be no changes in employment when CHP takes over.
The dental clinic sees any patient with an urgent dental need on a walk-in basis. Patients seeking comprehensive, preventive care should call the dental clinic for an initial visit appointment.
An individual care plan will be developed by the resident dentist with patient involvement. Patients will be seen by appointment for all routine dental needs.
For information and appointments, call 413-447-2781.