Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
After securing what looked like a guarantee to have a new dental clinic open within a few months, the Bullhook Community Medical Center is now looking for a new space to set up shop. Bullhook received a two-year state grant for $185,000 to use for opening a new dental clinic less than a month after hiring a dentist to start practicing in the clinic next spring. But after negotiations for leasing space from Northern Montana Hospital to house the clinic fell through, Bullhook Executive Director Cindy Smith said when the clinic will open now depends on finding a location. “It’s going to all depend on how quickly we can get something,” Smith said. The Bullhook board of directors looked at spaces in the Atrium Shopping Mall and in the old U.S. post office, formerly known as the Heritage Center, Friday to see if space in those buildings could work. Smith said this morning that the board had toured the buildings, although it could not inspect all of the offices in the post office and would return to do so. The board is reviewing all of its options and no decisions have been made, she said. Smith said two practicing dentists have said they are interested in coming to Havre, but if it takes more than a couple of months one of them might find a job somewhere else. She added that she is concerned that the same may happen with the other prospect. She said that the clinic was notified by Northern Montana Hospital that another entity wanted to lease the space in the Medical Arts facility just east of the hospital which Bullhook planned to lease for a dental clinic. Bullhook exercised its right of first refusal on the property, meaning it had the opportunity to negotiate for the space before it was leased to another entity, but the negotiation was unsuccessful. Smith said the hospital asked for a lease agreement for three years, which Bullhook was willing to enter, but the hospital was asking for proof of payment for the duration of the contract, which Bullhook was unable to provide. “We could guarantee two years,” she said, adding that the clinic said its income over those two years would have been the source of payment for the third year. “That was not sufficient for their purposes,” Smith said. Gina Barker, Northern Montana Hospital’s public relations officer, said Friday that David Henry, NMH’s president and chief executive officer, was not prepared to make a statement about the lease negotiations at that time. Bullhook, which provides medical services to all including using a sliding fee scale depending on income, has been working for several years to bring a dental clinic to Havre as part of its services. The area suffers a shortage of dentists, with several fewer dentists practicing in north-central Montana than 30 years ago. Bullhook's dental clinic would also accept payment through Medicaid and the Childrens Health Insurance Program, which is not accepted by many private practitioners. Smith has said in previous interviews that many north-central Montanans are forced to leave the area, going to Great Falls or farther, to find dentists who are accepting new patients and to find dentists who will accept Medicaid and CHIP. Smith said the length of the delay caused by finding a new facility is unknown. The space in the building east of Northern Montana Hospital, in the same complex that houses the Bullhook clinic, would have worked well because it had housed dental offices in the past, she said. Other spaces could require extensive remodeling and Will also have to be approved for the grant, for which Bullhook listed the space it planned to lease from Northern as the location. The time it will take to have the new space approved is a major variable, Smith added. “Sometimes you get it done quick and sometimes it takes six months,” she said. Bullhook has signed a dentist to come to Havre and work in the dental clinic next year. Matthew Huff, who will receive his dental degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in May, has agreed to come to Havre and work at the clinic once he graduates. Smith said she has two other students who will receive their dental degrees soon who may be interested in coming to work at a Bullhook dental clinic once they graduate, but the two practicing dentists might withdraw their offers if it takes too long to set up. One of those would be here practicing in a month or two if the space was available, she said. “I am certain we have a position but I am not certain when,” she said. “I am concerned that he could also take other positions if it takes too long.” Smith said she was surprised when Bullhook was denied the lease, especially because of the requirement to show three years of payment ability in advance. The community health center has a five-year lease with no requirement to show ability to make future payments, she said. Bullhook was also looking into the possibility of taking legal action because it lost the lease after exercising its right of first refusal, but Smith said the health center’s priority was in finding a space that would work. “What we want to do is serve the people and provide the dental service that is needed. That’s our bottom-line goal,” she said.