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Smiles all around at groundbreaking for clinic

A sorely needed piece of the area health care puzzle will soon be in place following official groundbreaking Tuesday for expansion of Halifax Primary Care and construction of an adjoining dental clinic.

The 10,100 square foot project includes a 6,400 square foot primary care expansion along with a new 3,700 square foot dental clinic.

Vernon Hill native Dr. Bridget McDowell Brown will serve as dental director and will practice dentistry at the clinic.

A lot of things had to come together in order for the expansion to take place, according to Halifax Regional Health System CEO Chris Lumsden.

“We started planning for this primary care center and the need for dental services six or seven years ago,” recalled Lumsden Tuesday.

The current primary care facility, with 18 exam rooms built to accommodate six physicians and mid-level providers, is almost at maximum capacity which led Halifax Regional Health System to plan for expansion, according to Lumsden.

A total of six physicians or mid-level providers along with 15-20 staff was planned for the primary care clinic three years ago, and those goals have been met, according to Lumsden, who anticipates four additional physicians joining the facility within the next eight months, two immediately after projected completion of the expansion in January or February.

One dentist, Brown, will be on staff when dental clinic construction is complete, and the clinic is built to accommodate two dentists, Lumsden added.

One hygienist and two support staff also are anticipated for the dental clinic when it opens, Lumsden continued, while noting the hard work of a number of organizations and individuals, including Dr. Wayne Adams and Halifax Regional Health System CFO Stewart Nelson, for their vision in helping make the dental clinic a reality.

Brown related her experiences working at a community clinic with patients who could not afford proper dental care or not any at all.

“Patients changed me, and their lives affected me, and I knew one day I wanted to be back in community practice,” said Brown.

One patient, a 16-year old pregnant girl had never been to a dentist before, she recalled.

“Her family was too poor, but while she was pregnant she had Medicaid.”

That patient had five abscessed teeth, her gums would bleed just when she smiled, she needed six teeth pulled, and she had about 20 cavities, according to Brown.

“During those nine months she came into the office twice a week until we got everything done,” Brown said.

“I felt like in all these cases, although I’d helped these children, I’d failed them too,” she noted.

“They would never be able to eat a caramel apple again or speak without a lisp,” said Brown, saying the answer to sad stories like these is early intervention and getting children into a clinic as early as 1-year-old.

“Make coming to the dentist fun instead of scary,” Brown explained. “We want to try and make oral health care cool to these children.”

Dr. James H. Priest, president of Halifax Regional Health System medical staff, a participant in Medicare and Medicaid and a practitioner of oral surgery and maxillofacial surgery for the past 33 years, recalled having to refer a large number of people, including a large percentage of children out of Halifax County for their dental care.

“The beginning of this clinic will be the beginning of a great future for Halifax County,” said Priest.

Dr. Michelle L. Cowden, medical director for Halifax Primary Care, remarked it was “wonderful from a provider’s standpoint to see this growth from temporary quarters at the Physician’s Pavilion to the primary care clinic and now the expansion,” while Sylvia Briggs-Judkins, school nurse manager coordinator for Halifax County Public Schools, said construction of the dental clinic was “like a dream come true.”

Terming dental disease a “silent epidemic,” Briggs-Judkins said the project “was a Godsend.”

The entire project is projected to cost $2.5 million, with $1.3 million designated for the primary care expansion and $1.2 million for the dental clinic.

Part of the funding for the dental clinic comes from a $700,000 CDBG grant, a $400,000 tobacco commission grant, $20,000 from the Delta Dental Network Foundation, $10,000 from the Wells Fargo Foundation, $4,000 from Suntrust and $1,000 from Captrust.