Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The long-lamented shortage of dentists in the area is turning a corner, with one new dentist opening a practice in Havre last week and the Bullhook Community Health Center announcing today it has signed a dentist to start practice next June. Dr. Daniel Shelby, a native of Lewistown, said this morning he and his wife, Orsi Shelby, moved to Havre to start a new practice with his brother, Dr. Michael Shelby, who started a practice in Havre two years ago. “I really like Havre,” Daniel Shelby said, adding that he just got involved in trap shooting here. Shelby received his undergraduate degrees, in microbiology and medical technology, from the University of Montana in Missoula before receiving his dental degree from Boston University last May. He and his brother practice in the family medical center east of Northern Montana Hospital across the parking lot from the Bullhook Community Health Center, which also has a dentist on the way. Bullhook Executive Director Cindy Smith said this morning that Matthew Huff, who will receive his dental degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in May, has committed to working for the health center after he graduates. Smith said Huff who was on his way back to Virginia today seemed excited about moving his family to Havre. He and his wife have three sons and are expecting another child, she said. Huff, who is from Lander, Wyo., said coming to Havre after living on the East coast is almost like coming home. She added that The clinic’s staff is looking forward to the addition. “We’re excited. We’re even going to try to see if we can get another (dentist),” Smith said. Part of that will depend on funding which also got a shot in the arm Wednesday when the local NorthWestern Energy office delivered a $2,000 donation to Bullhook and another $2,000 donation to the Sletten Hi-Line Cancer Center, which opened last month and is still raising funds for the local contribution pledged by the Northern Montana Health Care Foundation. “Two thousand dollars doesn't seem like much to people but it seems like a lot to us ,” Smith said. “Whether its five dollars or two thousand, every little bit helps.” Janice Fisher, donation committee secretary for the NorthWestern Havre office, said the committee meets to decide on requests for donations, with the primary consideration that the requesting entity be a nonprofit organization. “Pretty much, we just like to see our dollars in the community, helping people,” she said. Adding dental service to the local clinic has held a high profile in the area for several years. The number of dentists in north-central Montana has dropped over the years from about 13 dentists from Havre to Malta 30 years ago to about eight today and the number accepting payment through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program has dropped further. Bullhook, offers services to all in the area including a reduced sliding fee scale to qualifying patients depending on income and accepts a range of insurance. The clinic will accept Medicaid and CHIP for dental services. Smith said the fundraising is just beginning for the Bullhook dental practice. The health center submitted an application for state funds allocated by the 2007 Legislature to help underserved areas recruit and retain dentists. Bullhook applied for $185,000, and should know by the middle of September how much if any it is awarded, she said. Havre’s Bullhook clinic will be competing with other communities and any other community health centers which have applied for the grants. Christina Petersen, health information coordinator for Bullhook, said other fundraisers are in the works. The first, a guppy race, is set for the evening of Sept. 26 at the Great Northern Fairgrounds. In that event, people will bid on guppies, then race them in a guppy racetrack. Smith said live local bands are planned to provide entertainment at that event, and Montana State University-Northern athletes will provide coaching, support and security. Petersen said other fundraisers will continue throughout the year, including a dinner theater planned for January or February. The fundraising will determine how much of a dental practice Bullhook will offer. Petersen said setting up three operation rooms, standard for each dentist’s practice, will cost about $150,000. Having an office manager, two assistants and a dental hygienist for each dentist is also standard procedure. Smith said the health center will be interviewing another dentist at the end of this month, but whether another can be hired depends largely on how much funding is available.