Dental services at Infant Welfare Clinic open wider

? Grant will allow the OPRF Infant Welfare Clinic to expand the dental services it offers to low-income families.

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By STEPHANIE THIES

Starting this month, families in need of low-cost dental care from the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Clinic should have an easier time scheduling an appointment.

The clinic, which has worked since 1916 to provide medical and dental care for children whose families are unable to afford it, has recently received a $70,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Public Aid that will allow them to expand dental services. The grant, which is effective June 1 and will be paid in two annual installments, will be used for additional personnel and equipment, said Georgeen Polyak, director of the Oak Park Health Department.

There's no doubt that affording a health insurance policy is expensive. And when those who can't are worrying about paying for regular medical check-ups, vaccinations and prescriptions for their families, dental care is often the first thing they overlook, said Polyak. In Oak Park alone, there are 1,700 children who rely on Medicaid for dental care, yet only 4 percent of private dentists accept Medicaid. In light of this, tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease.

Elizabeth Lippitt, the director of the OPRF Infant Welfare Clinic, said there is a great need for an expanse in services because dental visits to the clinic have tripled in the last five years. The clinic will probably have at least 3,500 dental visits this year, she said.

"We've opened up our services to more communities, and providing dental care is very expensive. It costs us about $100 per patient who visits," she said.

Lippitt said she hopes they will eventually be able to expand services by adding more chairs to the now three-chair clinic. They also plan to hire more dental aids with the grant, which should expedite visits, allowing dentists to see more patients throughout the day.

When patients come to the clinic, most pay a small fee of $15 per visit. Public aid reimburses 50 percent of the cost, and the Infant Welfare Clinic is responsible for meeting the gap through grants and other fundraisers. Lippitt said the only way the Infant Welfare Clinic is able to raise support is through public-private partnerships with organizations such as the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Ninety-nine percent of the families who use the OPRF Infant Welfare Clinic are working in low-paying service jobs and have no health insurance. They are primarily from a handful of western suburbs?#34;Oak Park, Berwyn, Cicero, Forest Park and Melrose Park. There are some in other communities that are farther away who use the services, said Lippitt, because they aren't able to find similar services close to them."It just shows the lack of care available," said Lippitt. "There's a real health care crisis in the suburbs for low-income families."

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