Think you can’t afford a dentist? Trouble finding a dentist who will accept your insurance? A new full-service office in Johnstown says it will welcome you.
“If you don’t have a dentist, we are here for you,” Maj. Joseph F. Pawlowski said at Salvation Army Johnstown Dental Center.
“It is not only for poor people. We take all forms of insurance, including (Medicaid) Access. We will work on payment plans.”
The new center is open each Friday in the ground floor of the Feeder Canal Building at 647 Main St. in downtown Johnstown.
“We have many blessings from God,” Pawlowski said Friday during ribbon-cutting ceremonies. “Now he has given us the opportunity to provide for this community a service that is vitally important.”
Although it is often neglected, dental care is an important part of health care, Pawlowski said, recalling a 16-year-old Johnstown youth whose untreated cavity developed an infection that eventually led to his death.
“Dental health is the No. 1 unmet health need in the United States,” said Dr. Joseph Sheridan, medical director for United Healthcare.
United provides managed health care coverage for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, including more than 6,000 children who are not receiving dental health care in Cambria and surrounding counties, Sheridan said.
“I want every United Healthcare member in Cambria County and contiguous counties who doesn’t have a dentist to receive dental services at this facility,” Sheridan said.
By accepting Medicaid Access coverage and its managed care insurance through United and other payors, Sheridan believes the new dental center will become fiscally sound.
It is not a free clinic, Sheridan stressed, noting that many people associate the term “clinic” with second-rate care.
“This is the kind of care that you would receive at any dental office, anywhere,” Sheridan said.
Every patient will be required to pay $57 to access the center, Pawlowski said.
Dr. James Mancini from the Oil City center will provide care until the Johnstown center’s full-time dentist, Dr. Gary Gusmerotti, completes work with an Indian reservation in Wisconsin.
The center will have to be fiscally sound to expand, Salvation Army Regional Commander Maj. William H. Bode stressed, noting that the new program will require support from the community as part of its support for the Salvation Army’s overall programs.
“The need is present,” Bode said. “Salvation Army is opening a dental service to help meet the need.
“I emphasize the word ‘help.’ We cannot meet the need alone.”
The new Johnstown center is modeled after a Salvation Army dental program in Oil City, Venango County, Pawlowski said, predicting Johnstown will increase the program to exceed the average of 200 to 250 patients seen each week at the Oil City center.
That’s about how many people the local Salvation Army helped in a year at a homeless shelter, which was closed during the summer.
Salvation Army is part of a coalition of organizations working to open a new shelter, but will not be the operator, Pawlowski said.
The new center is located in the dental office suite formerly leased by Pursel Dental, now at 1390 Eisenhower Blvd. in Richland Township. Building owners Don and Beth Hall said they welcome the Salvation Army program to the historic Feeder Canal building.
“You folks are an answer to prayer,” Beth Hall said. “This area is set up for a dental office. It would have been really sad to me if we would have to convert it for other uses.”
The building remains on the market, Hall said. She and Pawlowski both said there have been some discussions about the Salvation Army purchasing the Feeder Canal Building and relocating all of its programs there.
“It is mostly a dream,” Pawlowski said.
Startup funding for the dental program included $80,000 in Lee Initiatives grants over two years. Executive Director Anita Faas said the service ideally matched the organization’s mission to improve health and wellness in the region.
“It is a huge, huge need,” Faas said. “Major Joe (Pawlowski) has done a tremendous job in pushing this through to fruition.”
Randy Griffith covers health care for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.