RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Program helps uninsured, low-income patients
The Press-Enterprise

Uninsured and low-income Riverside County residents with HIV now can see a dentist in the western part of the county rather than go to San Bernardino or the desert to get treatment.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties recently signed a contract, providing the Riverside County Department of Public Health’s HIV/AIDS program with about $88,000 for dental services through Feb. 29, 2012, said program director Victoria Jauregui Burns. The money comes from a federal grant that San Bernardino County was awarded to provide HIV/AIDS services, including health and dental programs, she said.

The Riverside County Public Health Department’s dental clinic in Rubidoux at its Don Schroeder Family Care Center will handle treatment for HIV patients, Burns said. The clinic is expected to set aside about five appointments a week for HIV patients, she said.

“There has not been a provider in western Riverside County,” Burns said. “There’s going to be access to dental care on this side of the county.”

Until now, many HIV patients had to go to the Social Action Community Health System Clinic in San Bernardino or to the Desert AIDS Project based in Palm Springs to get dental treatments.

David Brinkman, CEO of the Desert AIDS Project, said the Rubidoux clinic could help hundreds of people.

“We have about 600 patients in (dental) care,” he said. “I bet there are another 600 who could use dental care. Most of them don’t have insurance, and access to dental care is hard to come by.”

Reports from the California Department of Public Health indicate that Riverside County has nearly 5,000 residents with HIV and AIDS. San Bernardino County has about 3,500 residents with HIV and AIDS.

HIV patients can become more ill if they forgo dental care, Burns said. Many patients suffer from oral problems, which can be discovered during dental exams and treated.

Public health officials say about a third of people with HIV have oral problems related to their weakened immune systems.

HIV patients without dental insurance and who meet program financial conditions will qualify. Services will be free for those earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $2,723 per month for a one-person household. Patients with higher incomes will be charged based on their ability to pay.

A 2008 survey of HIV and AIDS patients indicated that dental care was ranked among the top five needed services. Clients also said they did not get dental services because of a lack of area providers.