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This week the Beaver Island Health Center posted a letter on its website that the BIRHC Board received from Dental Clinics North (DCN) director Erika Van Dam. The letter states that DCN has encountered continuous staffing problems since trying to open the clinic in May. So far, the clinic has been open two days in May and two days in May. The DCN letter does not say when the clinic will resume appointments, but there appears to be no date set for that at this time.

Here is the full text of the letter posted on the BIRHC website:

To the Board of Directors of the Beaver Island Rural Health Center,

As you have learned, Dental Clinics North has had difficulty securing a provider for our Beaver Island clinic, and I have been asked to provide you all with a summary of the situation. Last fall, the Health Department of Northwest Michigan arranged to donate a significant amount of clinic equipment to the Beaver Island Dental Clinic; it was transported on one of the last ferries of the year and accompanied by Patterson Dental. Over the winter, Dental Clinics North and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan worked with Beaver Island Rural Health Center for both the Health Department and BIRHC to purchase the remaining, necessary equipment and supplies to become operational in the spring of 2019. With the long winter, the delivery of the equipment and supplies was postponed due to the ferry schedule, but clinic set-up was completed in April 2019.

Dental Clinics North, as the staffing agency responsible for day-to-day operations and staffing, successfully recruited a dentist that committed to working at the Beaver Island Dental Clinic 4 days per month, so we launched services in May 2019. We had a successful first two days of clinic services in May, however, due to reasons I cannot discuss to protect confidential employee information, our Beaver Island provider was no longer employed with our agency by the end of the month. Our team responded within hours of knowing this information, and we called to reschedule appointments that were set for the week of May 27th.

Since then, we have been working diligently within our own network of providers, as well as through multiple recruitment strategies, to find a replacement provider for our Beaver Island location. Within our own network, we have 4 locations within a reasonable drive to Charlevoix, so we have been in conversation with many of our providers to ask their ability and willingness to help at the Beaver Island location. One of our long-standing providers, Dr. Vagalau, was able to help in July for two days, but we were unable to find a provider for August.

Our top goal is to develop a sustainable plan for provision of dental services. We are aware of the recurrent difficulties in recruiting medical and dental professionals to serve on Beaver Island; we are experiencing those same difficulties, which is why we are currently exploring multiple, potential solutions:

  • Recruiting a provider internally who will accept this new assignment as part of their regular clinic schedule.
  • Recruit a provider externally who will accept this assignment of 4 days per month. Dental Clinics North has provider needs elsewhere within the agency to make this more of a part-time or full-time position, however, there would be travel involved to fill the multiple needs. (We are having multiple conversations with providers about serving Beaver Island.)
  • Recruit a provider through a temporary staffing agency until we find a permanent solution
  • Explore the possibility to apply for, and receive approval for, a PA161 Program, or a Michigan Public Dental Prevention Program, to allow for Registered Dental Hygienists to provide preventive services at Beaver Island Dental Clinic under the remote supervision of a dentist. This would allow for adult and children cleanings to take place without a dentist present on-site.
  • Recruit multiple dentists to serve on Beaver Island so that no one dentist would need to travel to the island 2 times per month. The downside to this is that we would need to assign patients to a provider to ensure continuity of care, but with less frequent visits to the island by each dentist, this could delay treatment plan completion.

In the meantime, we continue to receive calls from residents needing oral health care. We register all new patients and keep a list of all patients needing services, so that when we have a plan to provide high-quality, comprehensive care, we can open up appointment availability and call the list of patients for scheduling appointments. The best way for patients to be registered and added to the list is by calling 1-877-321-7070.

We are committed to ensuring the Beaver Island Dental Clinic is a success, and we have been working to find a provider all summer. Please know we are dedicated to providing services and are working diligently to provide consistent oral health services to the residents of Beaver Island. On behalf of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and Dental Clinics North, we appreciate your partnership and support as we work through this.

Thank you, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with further questions.

Van Dam Signature

Erika Van Dam, MPH, CHES
Deputy Health Officer, Health Department of Northwest Michigan
Executive Director, Dental Clinics North