Waukesha County Community Dental Clinic

For low-income children, pregnant mothers, special needs patients, and medically-fragile adults, the Waukesha County Community Dental Clinic has been a full-time safety net dental provider in the community.

From its beginnings in 2008, its main goal has been to increase access to dental care for those populations so they can smile healthy and happy again. Its mission became even more relevant once the public health crisis emerged.

“We didn’t want people to have to go to the ER for a dental issue,” said Emily Lukasek, director of development for the clinic. “That’s not good for the patient or the hospital during these times.”  

If an individual does not address his or her dental problems early on, however, they can lead to additional more serious issues. So, the clinic knew that it needed to remain open for the populations it serves, especially in a time when the health care system was been tested in other ways.

The challenge, however, was providing emergency care in a time when people were even more financially vulnerable due to job fluctuation and/or loss. Also, due to the complexity of care, Medicaid does not provide much in terms of reimbursement. In return, those two scenarios put a strain on the clinic’s operational budget.

Thanks in part to an MKE Responds Fund grant, the clinic was able to keep its doors open over the past several months to provide emergency dental care, like treating abscesses, for existing clients as well as to serve new ones.

“Without getting grant funding, we would literally not have had the resources to execute (the care),” Lukasek said. “We needed to make in-the-moment decisions about what we were going to do. Having such a quick grant response and knowing we were able to have those resources in hand allowed us to not worry about reimbursement rates so that we could care for these patients.”

Lukasek said the agency had to make several quick, tough decisions. Initially, it furloughed most of its staff, except for its administrative team, clinic manager and dental health coordinator. Thanks to a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan, it was able to quickly bring the entire dental team back. It kept open only one clinic – its Waukesha location – and continued to serve the four-county area. For the safety of staff and clients, it minimized the amount of people in the clinic at one time by having a rotating team of dentist, hygienists and assistants. It stayed open three days a week, half days only. 

By virtue of it being one of few such clinics that remained open in the area during the safer-at-home order, Lukasek said, it saw a greater influx of adults and new patients. In 12 weeks, it provided186 appointments. Of those served, 40 percent of patients were new. On some days, staff served 19 people during the half day it was open. 

“We feel affirmed by what we are doing and have just been so moved by how this region’s donors have responded to this crisis,” Lukasek said.


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