Move of Cross Trails clinic benefits low-income patients

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Dr. Jason Fish isn't completely moved into his new office in Cape Girardeau, but stacks of cardboard boxes haven't kept him from treating patients.

And that's good news for many in his care who have come to him after a five or 10-year hiatus expecting to have all their teeth pulled.

"We have a lot of patients with emergency dental needs," he said.

But full dentures aren't needed by everyone, and Fish knows most of his daily job is about patient education.

"We'll try to educate them with each appointment and increase their dental knowledge," Fish said. "You need to get your mouth into a healthy state and maintain that."

And though the Cross Trails facility he works with recently has moved to 408 S. Broadview, some patients can't wait until the diplomas are on the wall and the file cabinets are delivered to have teeth pulled, cavities filled or recommendations made to oral surgeons.

The medical center receives 30 percent of its budget through a federal grant that requires it to serve underserved, uninsured, under-insured and low-income patients.

With the recent move, "we hope we've planned for future growth," said Vicki Smith, CEO at Cross Trails. The new location almost doubles the amount of space the center previously had and the basement offers just as much floor space for expansion and storage.

Besides the Cape Girardeau facility, Cross Trails operates offices in Marble Hill and Advance. The Marble Hill clinic has two physicians, a nurse practitioner, and a dentist and hygienist. The Advance location has a doctor and nurse practitioner.

Of the three locations, the Cape Girardeau facility is largest in terms of staff and volume. There are four physicians and a nursing staff at the clinic besides Fish.

The medical centers accept Medicaid and offer a sliding scale for payment to patients who cannot afford medical care at a private physician's office.

Patients come from everywhere, Smith said. There is no limitation on where patients have to reside to be eligible for treatment, attracting people as far away as St. Louis, Southern Illinois and western Kentucky.

Smith said Southeast Missouri has a critical need for providing accessible health care, whether medical or dental. She said it's an issue that's hard to address.

Fish said he's always been interested in public health and that good dental care can help curb other illnesses later in life. Most people don't realize this, and when money is tight they will skip dental visits.

"We have to change a lot of attitudes," he said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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