Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 5, 2013

Migrant clinic aims to broaden patient base

TRAVERSE CITY—Bob Klepac, a retired carpenter, suffered for months with agonizing tooth pain. He visited different dentists who delivered the grim news: he needed dentures at a cost of at least $5,000.

Klepac found a much more affordable answer at the Northwest Michigan Health Services dental clinic on M-72. The dentist plucked out five infected teeth and cleaned up the rest. Klepac’s smile has gaps because Medicaid doesn’t cover cosmetic fixes, but his teeth are his own.

“I see the dentist as an angel,” Klepac said. “But what I found out is how many people don’t know about this place.”

Clinic officials are pushing for higher public awareness to help folks like Klepac. The clinic celebrates its 45th anniversary this year and historically treated migrant farm workers. Now it’s reaching out to the area’s uninsured, working poor, and residents who need lower-cost health care, said Linda Shively, its new executive director.

The clinic met with setbacks last year because of low public awareness combined with a poor harvest that drew fewer migrants. The medical clinics in Traverse City and Bear Lake closed their doors in November, despite hopes they could remain open through winter, said Jim Krupka, board member.

“We didn’t have the funding and the clients to support a year-round operation at this facility,” Krupka said.

The Traverse City dental clinic and a third clinic in Shelby remained open.

Shively said increasing patient volume is key because it will allow the Traverse City clinic to hire a full-time, year-round staff. That will make the clinic eligible to accept a much wider range of insurance plans, which will translate to more patients.

Plans for the Bear Lake Clinic are still up in the air. It may re-open at a new location, where patients also can receive mental health and social services, Krupka said.

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