Central Florida Health Care: Dental Clinic Offers Care to Low-Income, Uninsured

By Robin Williams Adams


WINTER HAVEN | Central Florida Health Care opened its Winter Haven dental clinic as scheduled this month, another step in Polk County's ongoing effort in 2014 to boost access to dental care.


The clinic isn't limited to the uninsured.


Like Central Florida's Lake Wales and Frostproof dental clinics, people with insurance can be patients there, too.

But reaching people whose income and lack of insurance keep them from routine dental care is why Polk County approved spending $500,000 from the sales-tax-funded indigent care program to let CFHC start a dental program in Winter Haven.


Lance Anastasio, a member of the volunteer Citizens HealthCare Oversight Committee, saw one of those families Dec. 19 when committee members toured the facility.


"There was a mother there with two boys, 12 or 13," he said. "They wanted her to go into the (exam room) with them. They had not seen a dentist before."


The dental clinic is on the same site as the community health center's medical clinic, 1514 First St. N. It has a separate entrance and waiting area, Anastasio said.


"I'm very impressed with what's been accomplished with the funding allocated," he said, praising the modern X-ray equipment and the clinic's electronic-medical record link to other CFHC clinics.


Reaching people whose only recent encounters with dentists were for extractions is vital to their health, Central Florida officials said.


Central Florida Health Care, a federally qualified community health center, has medical and dental offices throughout Polk and in Hardee and Highlands counties.


"It's going great," Chief Executive Officer Ann Claussen said about the newest clinic. "They, the dental team, are phenomenal."


Dr. Marisa Franceschi, who has 20 years of experience and speaks several languages, will start at the Winter Haven clinic in January. "We're already completely booked," she said. "The need is there. I'm very excited to get started."


Franceschi spent the past couple of weeks at other Central Florida dental clinics, including a busy Wednesday morning in Lake Wales where she got a "couple of hugs" from patients.


"In our field, doing good work is not everything," she said. "Having people skills is important. My interest is in having people on my team who are friendly and know how to serve."


The staff in Winter Haven includes three dental assistants and a dental hygienist.


Anastasio and oversight committee member Bill Murrell said dental care is a long-standing need in their area.

Murrell, told by Winter Haven Hospital doctors that many patients seek dental care in the hospital's emergency department, made expanded dental care in Winter Haven a priority this year.


Polk residents asking for dental care made 7,760 visits to hospital emergency departments in 2012, according to a February report by the Florida Public Health Institute.


[ Robin Williams Adams can be reached at robin.adams@theledger.com or 863-802-7558. Read her blog at robinsrx.blogs.theledger.com. Follow on Twitter @ledgerROBIN. ]