By Molly Rosbach

Yakima Herald

YAKIMA, Wash. — A $1 million federal grant announced Wednesday will allow Community Health of Central Washington to double the size of its dental clinic in Ellensburg, allowing critical services to reach more people.

Recent reports have highlighted the severe lack of dental care in the Yakima Valley, and though Kittitas County is much smaller than Yakima, the need is still great, Community Health CEO Dr. Mike Maples said.

“There’s still a lot of people without access to oral health care,” he said Wednesday. Community Health is the sole safety net dental provider in Kittitas County.

 Community Health has had a medical clinic in Ellensburg since 2009, and later started an oral health clinic, Maples said.

“It’s a small office with only four (dental) chairs,” he said. “And even though the office is open 58 hours a week, there’s a huge backlog in terms of unmet need.”

The clinic keeps a wait list for people hoping to become regular clients, and also sees referral patients who are sent by the local emergency room with dental pain or infection.

With the $1 million, Maples said, Community Health will “at least double the size of the clinic.” It will also be moved to co-locate with the medical clinic.

The clinic only has one dentist right now, though another is starting in June. The expansion will mean hiring more dentists and more dental hygienists.

This spring, Community Health bought the property next to its Ellensburg Medical Clinic, so the two services will now be joined, Maples said.

“We have three years to complete the project … and it will take almost all of that time,” he said.

Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic also received a $1 million grant, but that money will not go toward any Yakima Valley clinics. Farm Workers has facilities from Spokane down to Salem in Oregon.

The grant comes as part of $260 million in funding for expansion and renovation of health clinics nationwide, part of the Affordable Care Act’s Community Health Center fund, which was extended in 2015.

The money is funneled through the Health Resources and Services Administration, under the federal Health and Human Services department.