Earmark would fund 1st Champlain Islands dental clinic in years

The Champlain Islands Health Center in South Hero. Photo courtesy Community Health Centers of Burlington

It’s been several years since the Lake Champlain Islands had their own dental care facility — but federal funds earmarked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., could change that.

Leahy has requested $1 million in congressionally directed spending for construction of a dental clinic at the Champlain Islands Health Center in South Hero. That money is contingent, though, on Congress passing new funding outlines for federal agencies, rather than approving a stopgap bill to keep agencies open at 2021 levels.

All three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation have requested earmark funding, for projects ranging from the Army National Guard Biathlon Facility in Jericho to the Stone Arch Bridge in Townshend. 

For the organizations slated to receive that money, such as the Community Health Centers of Burlington, which runs the Champlain Islands center, there’s little to do except wait.

Islanders have not had local dental care since a home-based dentist in the town of Grand Isle retired in 2019, said David Carter, chair of the South Hero Selectboard. Many local residents, including Carter, use dental providers in Chittenden County.

Kim Anderson, a spokesperson for the Community Health Centers of Burlington, said the dental clinic project will be “shovel-ready” when funding becomes available. The Islands’ health center, which currently offers primary and psychiatric care, has had vacant space for a dental clinic since the building opened in 2016, she said. 

Plans for the new clinic include five dental operatories, a lab, a sterilization room, a patient waiting area and facilities for staff. The project is slated to cost about $1.25 million in total.

The Champlain Islands Health Center is a federally qualified health center, which serves patients even if they don’t have health insurance or are unable to pay the full cost of care.

“This creates a home base for that real high-quality oral hygiene and preventative care that the underserved rural population in that area deserves,” Anderson said. 

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and announced the return of earmarking last spring, echoed the Islands’ need for dental care in a statement. 

“Rural residents deserve to have the same access to critical dental services as urban residents,” he said. “But we know that too often this is not the case.”

“I am currently working with my counterparts across the aisle to negotiate a budget agreement for the current fiscal year, which will include funding for a multitude of projects in Vermont, and just as importantly will supply the funds our government needs to do its work,” Leahy added.

Andy Julow, executive director of the Lake Champlain Islands Economic Development Corp., said Grand Isle County typically has had at least one dentist. And that service usually has been located toward the southern end of the county, he said.

Julow added that the dental clinic would benefit the Islands’ growing senior population. 

“There are people who specifically stay on the Islands every day — either they work here, or they're retired, or they're their immobile,” he said. “And that population really needs access to health care, dental care and a pharmacy.” 

That last piece has been missing since 2020, Julow noted, when a South Hero pharmacy closed. The business reopened without the pharmacy as Nadia’s Health, Wellness, Gift and Variety Store.

Julow added he hasn’t heard anything about a new pharmacy opening up. 

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Shaun Robinson

About Shaun

Shaun Robinson is a Report for America corps member with a special focus on issues of importance to Franklin and Grand Isle counties. He is a journalism graduate of Boston University, with a minor in political science. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Patriot Ledger of Quincy and the Cape Cod Times.

Email: [email protected]

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