Approximately 4,000 seniors in the region are eligible for a new program providing free dental services but may have to travel to get them.
The province launched the new Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP) Nov. 20, which will provide free routine dental care for low-income seniors. The $90 million-per-year program will be accessible through the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) at approved public health clinics in Port Hope, Whitby or Peterborough.
HKPR director of health promotion Pam Stuckless said it is a positive development.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “Good dental health is connected to overall good health, so it’s helping it to increase the quality of life and access to health services for seniors.
“Like any new program, there’s going to be lessons learned and probably some changes as we go along,” she added.
One of the changes she expects is creating a local access point for Haliburton. The program garnered some condemnation from the Ontario Dental Association and the Haliburton County Volunteer Dental Outreach (VDO) when the province announced it in April, due to the requirement to get the program from public health clinics. That requires seniors in many areas to travel and use unfamiliar dentists.
But the VDO and the health unit are planning to solve that by making the program accessible at the VDO. Stuckless said they have the green light to forge partnerships to expand the program’s reach.
“The volunteer dental clinic already services the population this program is looking to target,” Stuckless said. “Exceptional access point to be able to deliver services to clients.”
VDO director Lisa Kerr said their office would be a much more convenient location for locals. But she expects there would be an influx of new patients when a workable arrangement is approved.
“Our organization looks forward to helping more senior patients,” Kerr said.
To access the program, applicants must be 65 years or older, not have existing dental benefits and have an annual income of less than $19,300. For couples, the combined income must be less than $32,300. The services available include preventative care and treatment such as fillings and extractions. People can apply through Ontario.ca/SeniorsDental or at health unit offices.
Stuckless said she hopes people can start accessing the program at the VDO by the end of the year or early 2020.