Dental van helps those without health care

The wait for the dentist had been a long one for Angela Estes – at least seven years.

“I think this is a great idea,” said Estes of Lake Stevens. “It would be an easier way to reach people, maybe even the elderly.”

Her appointment was conducted in a specially outfitted 42-foot-long Winnebago van parked at the rear door of the nonprofit Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic. Checkups and other dental services are provided free to patients one day a month.

Dan Bates / The Herald

Dr. Donald Hayes begins work on 7-year-old Regina Hermosillo of Snohomish in a mobile dental van outside Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic in Everett recently.

The van is outfitted with all the equipment of a modern dental office, including two dental chairs, an X-ray machine and sterilization equipment.

Staffed by dentists and other volunteers with Northwest Medical Teams International, it is one example of expanded services being provided in Snohomish County to people who were being shut out of health care.

For several years, problems with Medicaid, the state program that pays for medical care for families on welfare and the disabled, meant thousands of area children and adults couldn’t get in to see a doctor.

Problems began in 2001 when the state rejected bids from five managed care plans to serve Healthy Options patients, the Medicaid health plan for the working poor. That made it more difficult for the poor to get care, triggering a local health care crisis.

Since the money paid to care for the patients didn’t cover the costs of caring for them, many area private medical clinics simply said they could no longer take new Medicaid patients.

By 2002, a Snohomish County Medical Society survey showed that only 5 percent of the 325 primary care doctors working in private medical clinics were accepting new Medicaid patients.

The problem was so acute that state Department of Health and Social Services officials said Snohomish County was one of the three worst counties in Washington for Medicaid patients to get health care. The lack of access to dental care, they said, was at least as bad.

With no place else to get help, people seeking medical care often end up in hospital emergency rooms, one factor making Providence Everett Medical Center’s emergency department one of the busiest in the state.

This year, a series of events has significantly improved the ability of Medicaid and Medicare patients and the uninsured to get health care in Snohomish County.

Last January, the nonprofit Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic opened at 1001 Broadway, the result of a nine-month fund drive in 2003 that raised more than $1 million in private donations.

The clinic joined two other nonprofits in the county serving Medicaid, Medicare and uninsured patients: Sea Mar in Marysville, and the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, which has clinics in Everett and Lynnwood.

“We now see about 500 to 600 people a month,” said Dr. Tony Roon, who oversees the Providence clinic, which estimated that it treated about 3,500 patients and scheduled 6,000 appointments in 2004.

This year, the clinic expects to book about 7,500 appointments.

Donations during the startup fund drive are helping cover the estimated $100,000 operating loss during its first year. The clinic hopes to break even by 2006, Roon said.

Next, about 19,000 more area children and adults got access to health care through the Healthy Options plan in 2004. These low-income working families covered through Medicaid were assigned to a plan, guaranteeing access to a medical clinic.

“What this does is help organize the system of care better so folks are assigned to a primary care provider and they’re not trying to call around and find somebody,” said Mary Anne Lindeblad, who oversees managed care programs for DSHS.

Private clinics joined nonprofits in accepting these Medicaid patients. The Community Health Center of Snohomish County, for example, took more than 2,000 new Healthy Options patients in 2004, executive director Ken Green said, as well as another 2,200 other Medicaid patients.

Now, 217 physicians in the county take these patients, said Rick Cooper, executive director of The Everett Clinic. His organization treats about 9,000 Healthy Options patients at its 10 area clinics.

All those changes are thought to be a factor in the decrease in patients going to Providence Everett’s emergency room for problems that could be cared for in a clinic.

In 2001, an estimated 19 percent of patients fit that category, Roon said. In 2004, it was about 10 percent of the estimated 92,000 patients.

Despite the improvements, about 30,000 local residents on state medical assistance, including the aged, blind and disabled, don’t have access to medical services that come with having an assigned health care provider.

“It’s patched,” Lindeblad said of the local changes in medical care. “It doesn’t fix everything.”

And no one accurately knows how many county residents don’t have health insurance, and so have problems with, or cannot get, health care.

What improved access to health care means is apparent in the smiling faces of patients now getting treatment, such as Virginia Hermosillo of Snohomish and daughters Kayla, 6, and Regina, 7. They recently were treated in the dental van at Providence Healthcare Clinic.

“I always let the kids go first to the dentist,” Hermosillo said. “Now it’s my teeth that need some work.”

Hermosillo volunteers at her children’s school, Peaceful Glen Christian, to help offset tuition. “One income is not enough,” she said. “We live paycheck to paycheck.

“God’s blessed us with this dental van.”

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

Free dental van

The dental van provides free care once a month to patients of Providence Everett Healthcare Clinic, which is in the College Plaza shopping center, 1001 Broadway, Suite A3, Everett. Call 425-317-0300.

Other area nonprofit clinics that accept Medicaid, Medicare and uninsured patients:

* Community Health Center of Snohomish County, 425-789-3333, which provides dental services on a sliding fee scale.

* Sea Mar Community Health Center in Marysville, 360-653-1742.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Arif Ghouseat flips through his work binder in his office conference room Paine Field on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Paine Field Airport director departing for Sea-Tac job

Arif Ghouse, who oversaw the launch of commercial air travel at Paine Field, is leaving after eight years.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of education.
Public school enrollment still down, even as rural districts grow

Smaller districts in Snohomish County seem to be recovering more quickly — and gaining students — than their urban counterparts.

Angelica Montanari and daughter Makena, 1, outside of the Community Health Center of Snohomish County Everett-Central Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Amid patient woes, CHC of Snohomish County staffers push for a union

Doctors and nurse practitioners are worried about providers being shut out from clinical decisions, which hurts patient care.

Students make their way after school at Edmonds-Woodway High School on March 12, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
After Edmonds schools internet outage, staff ‘teaching like it’s the 1900s’

“Suspicious activities” on the district’s network delayed classes and caused schedule havoc. “Kids are using pencil and paper again.”

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Retooling drug laws, protecting octopus and honoring a cactus

It’s already Day 26. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

April Berg, left, and John Lovick
Snohomish County legislators talk race, policy in Seattle

Rep. April Berg and Sen. John Lovick chatted about Tyre Nichols and education at an event kicking off Black History Month.

A suspect removes a rifle bag from a broken rear window of a Seattle police car on May 30 in downtown Seattle. An Everett man, Jacob D. Little, 24, has been charged with the theft of the high-powered rifle stolen from the car. This image is from the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. 20200904
Everett man sentenced for stealing police gun in Seattle protest

Jacob Little, 26, now faces second-degree murder charges for allegedly killing a man in Renton in August 2020.

Switzerland delegate Markus Herrmann listens while 12th grade students speak with him during a special event set up for their AP Comparative Government class at Glacier Peak High School on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
European delegates talk American culture with Glacier Peak students

Representatives from 18 different EU countries made a stop in Snohomish during their US tour.

Community Transit is leasing a 60-foot articulated BYD battery electric bus this year as an early step in the zero emission planning process. (Community Transit)
Community Transit testing 60-foot electric bus

The agency leased the BYD K11M for $132,000 this year as the first step in its zero-emission planning process.

Most Read