Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Group asks help
to provide dental
care on Big Island

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> A third of Hawaii's people cannot afford dental care, and the Big Island has some of the greatest need, says the Office for Social Ministry of the Catholic Church.

Yet the Big Island receives no money from the state Dental Division.

Social Ministry is asking the Legislature for a $100,000 grant for the organization's Mobile Care dental van.

The Dental Division is supposed to serve the entire state, Social Ministry Executive Director Carol Ignacio said.

"This is something the state is required to do."

Social Ministry began Mobile Care on the Big Island in 1997 and on Maui last year, Ignacio said. But the service covers only the most critical needs.

"We're like a dental emergency room for low-income, uninsured and underinsured adults," said Mobile Care head Kaye Lundburg.

Dr. Virginia Pressler, head of the state Health Resources Administration, said she recognizes the problem.

"There's a need on the Neighbor Islands that hasn't been fulfilled," she said.

There are four state clinics on Oahu and another three state-funded private clinics, but none on the Big Island.

"It's (the Dental Division's) best attempt to use the totally inadequate resources they have to get to the major population, getting the most service to the most people," Pressler explained.

"It's not a good solution, but it's the best they've been able to come up with."

Meanwhile, the Big Island need grows. Mobile Care provides only emergency service, so nonemergency needs mount. The slow economy means people cannot pay. And there are not enough dentists.

"On the Big Island there is a critical shortage of dentists," Ignacio said.

The state QUEST insurance program pays local dentists far below national norms, and mainland dentists who would volunteer here during their vacations cannot because of red tape, Lundburg says.

However, the Hawaii Dental Association has created a "Samaritan Task Force."

"They say they're going to give us free labor. We'll take it with a lot of aloha," Lundburg said.

And a dentist from the National Health Service Corps is due to arrive soon. He will do some dentistry but will primarily work on creating clinics, which are at least a year away.

The Big Island needs the requested $100,000 to fill the time gap, Lundburg said.

"We're not asking for a lot here, folks," she said.

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