It is often said that the best way to make a great first impression is with a smile and that a nice smile is an indicator of good health. Good oral health is a culmination of a number of factors for an individual – community, environment, access, culture, education – and in rural Appalachia, those factors often serve as stumbling blocks. The need for increased oral health services, especially for those who live at or below the poverty level, is well-documented. One local organization is working to address the great need for quality dental care in our region.

Hopewell Health Center (HHC) is the major oral health, behavioral health, and primary care safety net for nine counties in southeast Ohio – Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Meigs, Perry, Ross, Vinton, and Washington. Initially founded to address regional health disparities, HHC has grown in both impact and service.

“When Ohio Health decided that it was no longer feasible for them to operate the Nelsonville Hospital, they sought assistance from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation.OHF began convening meetings with community organizations to brainstorm uses for the building,” shared Sherry Shamblin, Chief Strategy Officer for Hopewell Health Centers.

The vision of their staff and the support of the community have effectively turned this dream into a reality.

“Integrated Services for Behavioral Health, who has developed expertise in repurposing buildings committed to owning and operating the building. Hopewell, who has other partnerships with ISBH, agreed to join with ISBH in creating a multi-use facility by relocating the primary care practice from The Plains Primary Care Clinic and expanding dental health services to the location,” shared Shamblin.

Opening a start-up dental clinic is expensive, and through the generous support of several foundations and funding from Buckeye Hills Regional Council through the Appalachian Regional Commission, Hopewell Health Center is renovating, equipping, and supplying the Nelsonville Dental Clinic at the Mary Hill Center. The vision of their staff and the support of the community have effectively turned this dream into a reality.

“There is no other dental practice in our region with the size and scope of Hopewell’s Nelsonville Dental Clinic located at the Mary Hill Center that provides unlimited access to Medicaid patients, has a sliding fee scale for services, and provides training opportunities,” shared Shamblin.

Without healthy citizens, we can’t have healthy businesses, healthy schools, or healthy community organizations.

The Mary Hill Center will not only serve as a dental clinic, open to everyone to access regardless of where they live or their ability to pay, but it will also support the growth of the regional workforce. Of the 12 dental operatories, three will serve as training operatories for Ohio State University and Hocking College Dental Hygiene students to complete rotations and serve as residents. Students will be trained in basic oral health procedures as well as holistic, integrated care that is the hallmark of HHC’s services.

The building is currently under renovation.

“The vitality and health of our citizens are central to all the social efforts we want to advance in our communities. Without healthy citizens, we can’t have healthy businesses, healthy schools, or healthy community organizations. Without these things it’s increasingly difficult for our region to be competitive in retaining and attracting families and talent,” shared Bret Allphin, Development Director of Buckeye Hills Regional Council.

As the physical boundaries to many types of work begin to fade, access to community assets like healthcare become competitive benchmarks for where people choose to live and work

According to the results of a community survey distributed by Hopewell Health Center, 62% of respondents reported having a very difficult or somewhat difficult time accessing dental services. This data, paired with Ohio Health Data indicating that 32% of 3rd graders have untreated tooth decay compared to the state average of 19%, provides a stark indication of the need for increased awareness of oral health and access to dental health facilities.

“It is critical for the future success of small communities that access to health care is addressed as a significant need. As the physical boundaries to many types of work begin to fade, access to community assets like healthcare become competitive benchmarks for where people choose to live and work,” shared Allphin.

“Improving access to healthcare not only increases local career opportunities directly in the health care industry but sends a positive message to external parties about the benefits of our region,” Allphin continued.

The Mary Hill Dental Clinic intends to contribute to the quality of life for southeast Ohio, providing benefits to both employers and residents alike. The leadership of Hopewell Health Center anticipates that in the first year of the Clinic, over 2,300 dental patients will be served. The intent is for this number to grow year after year as their presence becomes more widely-known and their staff of professionals and students grows.


To learn more about Hopewell Health Center, visit www.hopewellhealth.org

To learn more about Buckeye Hills Regional Council and regional job training projects, visit www.buckeyehills.org

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