The view from an anonymous staff member at the University of Washington. (Want to share your own up-close perspective on the looming state budget cuts? E-mail it to me.)
As a clinic staff member in the School of Dentistry, I have been closely monitoring the issue of these cuts to the services for the neediest members of our community. And I agree with Rebecca Kavoussi in her dire warning that people will indeed die as a result of some of these cuts.
But far more common than totally preventable deaths from oral infections will be the countless other (expensive) emergency procedures that, for 2011 anyhow, will be covered by DSHS, but would have never taken place had routine exams and relatively inexpensive restorative treatment been allowed to continue. Instead of filling a tooth, clinicians will have to wait until it must be extracted. You might feel otherwise, but it's really counterproductive for dentists to pull your teeth. Think about it.
While not any more important than the other devastating losses for the working poor and needy in this state, I am anxious about the long-term effects of ever-eroding coverage for services because I see the symbiotic relationship between patient and practitioner every day.
In cutting the adult dental benefit for Medicaid patients, the state has set in motion what I see will be a ripple effect that will take years to undo. Not only is preventive care for these deserving people eliminated, but the patient pool for young aspiring dental students has been drastically cut—I'm told by as much as half.
This state—this region—isn't exactly swimming in dental schools, you may have noticed.
So the students down the line who will still choose to come to the University of Washington for their education are either going to have to hustle that much harder for patients in order to fulfill requirements to complete this rigorous program, or they'll graduate less-than-optimally prepared to serve their communities.
And how attractive is an underfunded dental school for talented faculty members? For potential students? For support staff? The school cannot generate revenue if there is not enough billable treatment being performed.
Though Medicaid reimbursement may be a pittance, it is part of a necessary revenue stream that funds, among other things, the much-needed improvements in facilities and equipment that lead to outstanding service, which in turn attracts those in need and those who are willing to come serve.
Patients have been calling the school in desperation, seeking appointments for non-emergent services in the past few days as this bad news has spread through the region. I can imagine this situation unfolding in our several community clinics. To be sure cuts, have been routine over the past few years as our economy has struggled, but I am left baffled that Washington voters chose to protect the coffers of the rich. We had a chance to make things right for Washingtonians, and we blew that too.
I am really left wondering what the UW, and other clinics, will choose to do to fill this enormous gap in the appointment book for 2011, 2012, and beyond. May I suggest that readers with business and marketing savvy in the arena of public health visit the Dean's office?