The Senate bill seeks to attract dentists to underserved areas.

As of mid-September, La Red Health Center had three dentist positions open that it was trying to fill, according to CEO Brian Olson.

Still, in an interview with Delaware Online/The News Journal, Olson said he had hope. He believed La Red – which is based in Georgetown and serves many uninsured or underinsured patients – would be able to find the staff needed to bring its dental care up to standard.

Why? Well, much of Olson’s optimism has to do with the passage of Senate Bill 277.

Introduced last spring and signed into law in August, this state legislation essentially relaxes licensing requirements for dentists who work in Federally Licensed Health Centersthat operate in underserved areas, as well as public dental clinics.

Senator Sarah McBride sponsored this legislation and is now leading a statewide task force taking a closer look at what access to dental care looks like in Delaware.

FOR SUBSCRIBERS:Access to oral care in Delaware goes beyond just a shortage of dentists

What does this bill have to do with hiring dentists?

After hearing from other state lawmakers across the state and the political spectrum about dental care access issues, McBride — who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee — had the opportunity to see first-hand the effects of staffing shortages, especially at Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs.

Although the state had made progress a decade ago in allowing dentists to apply for provisional licenses if they worked in these health centers, McBride quickly realized that these licenses were not enough to entice dentists coming to work in these Delaware centers.

“I have seen these state-of-the-art facilities either operating at reduced capacity or completely shut down because, despite this interim license, our federally qualified health centers were unable to recruit enough dentists to provide these services and this care in these state-of-the-art facilities at full capacity,” McBride said.

Prior to Senate Bill 277, dentists who worked in federally qualified health centers would receive this Delaware Provisional Dental License, but this license would expire after two years, when they would have to go through all of the extended licensing requirements for the Delaware.

To qualify for this provisional license as well, dentists who worked at a center like La Red would have to pass the Delaware practical exam, which is held in Wilmington twice a year. This means the Sussex County practice would have to set up accommodations for its dentists to be able to stay in the Wilmington area overnight, as well as provide patients for the clinical portion of exams.

Now, with Senate Bill 277, there is a clearer path to Delaware state licensure for dentists who work in these centers, and people like Olson hope these restrictions will be eased. will help attract more out-of-state dentists to providers like La Red.

Why care about changes in dental licensing?

With the passage of this new legislation, dentists apply for what is called a “community health license”, which replaces the provisional license.

What makes this license different is that it converts to a standard Delaware license – which means a dentist can practice anywhere other than FQHC – as long as the dentist practices a certain number of alternate hours. year.

Although that appears to be a technical change, McBride said the simplified path to licensing will make it more attractive for a dentist in, say, Philadelphia to work in an underserved area of ​​Delaware for a few years before moving on. join a firm elsewhere in the state.

A file photo of the location of La Red Health Center in Seaford, Delaware.

This new path is also comparable to licensure requirements in other states, according to McBride and others in the dental industry.

Delaware’s unique dental licensing requirements have been scrutinized for years, including a residency requirementand policymakers, advocates and industry leaders continue to discuss it as part of efforts to improve access to dental care.

Tackling access to dental care through a task force

Another part of Senate Bill 277 is the creation of a Working Group on Access to Dental Carewhich includes more than 25 people, from lawmakers and dentists to public health officials and advocates.

With its first meeting on September 14, the working group will continue to meet twice a month to address the following issues:

  • Access to dental care, including for underserved populations and communities
  • Dental Licensure Practices and Requirements
  • Type of dental provider and scope of practice
  • Dental Provider Recruitment and Retention Strategies
  • Dental insurance networks and coverage, including for the uninsured and underinsured

The task force will submit a final report to the state legislature by February 1.

Although McBride said she is keeping an open mind about the results, she hopes the group can devise possible solutions for the many different aspects affecting access to dental care – from loan repayments for incoming dentists to strategies recruitment of dental assistants and hygienists, or strategies to make Medicaid coverage more accessible.

“Hopefully we have enough options and enough momentum and support to pass a number of policies at the next General Assembly, and maybe after that,” McBride said. “To address the shortage, address access issues, and ensure that Delaware is no longer a state experiencing shortages of health care providers in dental care in any county or in any part of the state.”

Emily Lytle covers Sussex County, from inland towns to beaches, with a focus on health issues. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at [email protected] or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.

Norman D. Briggs