Community dental clinic maintains access to care through pandemic

The Northern Dental Access Center is still operating at 65% capacity and thanks to a mix of funding resources, is going into 2021 on solid financial ground.

Northern Dental Access Center is located at 1405 Anne St. NW in Bemidji. (Pioneer file photo)

BEMIDJI -- The new year is closing in and while it wasn't always easy, the Northern Dental Access Center in Bemidji has maintained operations and will continue to do so in 2021.

The nonprofit community access dental clinic, opened nearly 12 years ago , faced challenges like all organizations did because of the coronavirus pandemic, going all the way back to when shutdowns first started. According to NDAC Executive Director Jeanne Edevold Larson, the first action taken during the pandemic was a temporary closure.

"We had to be closed for a little over a week as the Board of Dentistry and the governor's office tried to work through what was safe to do in dental offices," Edevold Larson said. "It's a high risk environment, as your mouth is open during a visit."

Eventually, the clinic was able to open, but only for emergency cases. From April through July, the clinic was operating at about 10% capacity and 22 employees were furloughed.

"Starting in August, as the governor's restrictions scaled back, we were able to pull people back in a little bit at a time and patients who were comfortable would come back in," Edevold Larson said. "Since August, week by week, we've been doing a little more. For the last three months, we've leveled off at about 65% of our capacity, and that's what we're predicting to continue as we go into 2021."


Part of the reason the NDAC is operating at 65% is the time in between patient visits. Edevold Larson said sterilization and sanitization, as well as changing PPE, adds time to the work being done before another appointment. At the current rate, the NDAC is now able to see about 1,200 patients per month.

One of the reasons the center has been able to remain functional is thanks to a steady stream of funding that has continued through the pandemic.

"We've been very fortunate thanks to a mix of the Payment Protection Program, which allowed us to cover some of the essential workers during those tough few months, and the extended unemployment which supported those workers who were furloughed," Edevold Larson said. "We've been able to cobble together substantial relief funds that covered our losses and we're operating at a maximum efficiency right now. So, we're optimistic that we can cover our losses by the end of the year."

Along with grant funding, which Edevold Larson said she's continuing to work on, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, has also been credited for providing needed aid.

"Over the weeks and months pockets of funding have become available, like with the CARES Act," Edevold Larson said. "We can end this year in the black and look ahead, and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate."

As COVID-19 vaccines become more readily available in the months ahead, Edevold Larson said it's going to take time for people to come back to the point where the center is operating at 100% capacity. However, Larson said she still encourages local residents to come in and get care.

"We're one of the safest places in town," Edevold Larson said. "Our protocols are as rigid as any health care environment and we've had no indication of transmission at our dental offices. We hope that anybody who needs care will call us."

The NDAC can be reached at (218) 444-9646. Along with its Bemidji location at 1405 Anne St. NW, the NDAC operates another clinic in Halstad, Minn.

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