It began four years ago as a small downtown dental care operation, but there is nothing small about today's Douglas County Dental Clinic.
By the end of the year the clinic, which provides comprehensive general dentistry to uninsured county residents, will have treated its 5,000th patient of the year. That's at least 1,000 more patients than last year's total.
"I think that just speaks to the need that there is for access to dental care in our community," said Julie Branstrom, the clinic's executive director.
At the end of the month the clinic will move from its current busy and cramped facilities at 4920 Bob Billings Parkway to a much larger building at 316 Maine. There it will be able to add two more examining and operations rooms to the four it currently has. It also plans to add a third full-time dentist to the staff that includes Drs. Cheryl Biesterfeld and Dan Boedeker.
It was only a year ago that the clinic added a second dentist. The clinic is seeing an average of 400 to 450 patients a month.
"I think what has surprised us is we haven't advertised," said Karen Shumate, president of the clinic's board of directors. "It's been mostly by word of mouth, and we've done some work getting our name out into the dental and medical community."
The building on Maine formerly housed the dentistries of Drs. Thomas Rainbolt and John Wulfkuhle, who have since moved to an address on Wakarusa Drive. Wulfkuhle still owns the Maine building. Douglas County Dental will lease the building from Wulfkuhle.
In addition to being able to increase treatment and services, the new building will allow Branstrom to have an office.
"I have a desk in a hall," Branstrom said of the current location. "It's kind of hard to run a business from a hallway."
The Maine Street building also will put the clinic near Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and other health care services in the same neighborhood. Many of the clinic's patients use those other services.
We think it is really well-placed," Shumate said. "We think it will increase our visibility."
Planning for the clinic began in 1998 after community leaders decided there was a strong need for such a service for the uninsured. At the time there were about a dozen local dentists who would volunteer services on a rotating basis to that group in cases of emergencies, said Dr. Ed Manda, a dentist and board member who was involved in the clinic's formation.
The clinic will close Dec. 30 for the move to 316 Maine. It will reopen Jan. 4. An open house will be held sometime in February. Those who use the clinic pay fees on a sliding scale based on their income. Some patients use Medicaid and HealthWave, a publicly funded insurance.