AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A proposal to cut the budget of the Clinical Services Dental Clinic, which serves more than 3,000 low income Mainers, many of whom have mental and physical disabilities, came under fire in a public hearing at the state house on Wednesday.
The clinic's entire $800,000 yearly operating budget has been cut from Governor LePage's proposed 2014-15 biennial budget, which essentially will force the clinic to close its doors.
"The patients here are truly very special individuals with unique and complex care needs," explained Lisa Kavanaugh, CEO of Community Dental which operates several dental clinics in Maine. "It is unlikely that most of these individuals will be able to be absorbed into dental practices and other safety net clinics."
"Even if these patients could be cared for in the community, they wouldn't have access to the same continuum of services and there certainly wouldn't be any reimbursement if they did," Kavanaugh added.
Bonnie Smith, Deputy Commissioner of Programs for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, says the department is faced with very tough choices and believes the patients served by the clinic will be able to find the care they need elsewhere.
"We are looking very closely at every penny that we spend in every area, and we are trying to make sure that everything that we do is aligned with the goals and mission of the department," said Smith.
Of greatest concern to the department, and to caregivers, are the roughly 500 patients that have conditions that require IV sedation before dental work can be done.
James Key worries what his son, who has been a patient at the clinic for 17 years, will do when he needs preventative dental work in the future.
"It would be very difficult to find a regular dentist that would do the work that he needs to have done there," stated Key.
Key believes patients like his son will go without the necessary check ups and cleanings they get now, leading them to require more expensive emergency procedures in the future.
"A lot of them will probably not receive the work that they need, which will mean that they will get hygienic diseases which will lead to other diseases and they will wind up probably in the emergency rooms of hospitals which also are not equipped to deal them," said Key.
"This clinic is the definition of the most vulnerable people in Maine," stated Rep. Denise Harlow, as she testified before the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services in support of a bill she is co-sponsoring that would restore the clinic's funding.
"If we cannot help the people that need the help the most in our state, then we need to reevaluate our priorities," she added.
Senate President Justin Alfond told the committee he does not believe the cuts will save money, and will come at a human cost.
"If we provide access to needed care when a condition sets in, we can prevent the condition from worsening and save money in the long run," explained Sen. Alfond.