COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: Missouri Highlands Health Care offers free and sliding scale medical and dental care for the underprivileged

ELLINGTON, Mo. – Missouri Highlands Health Care is a nonprofit whose mission is to serve disadvantaged populations by providing low-cost dental care and finding individuals affordable health care options.

The organization’s services include finding patients their best access to health care, case management, health education, translation, chronic disease management and nutritional counseling. Missouri Highlands currently serves a range of areas in eastern Missouri including Iron, Shannon, Ripley, Reynolds, Montgomery, Butler and Wayne Counties. 

The operation began as a free clinic in the basement of a local health department in 1975. Highlands focuses primarily on medical and dental needs, and is expanding into women’s and behavioral health as well. The organization has a sliding, income-based scale and occasionally receives federal grants to cover operational costs.

When grants are not available, Missouri Highlands CEO Karen White said a small fee is typically the only charge, but the group does its best to help patients find the funding to cover costs.

The organization has dental clinics in Ellington, Pilot Knob and Poplar Bluff, and is breaking ground on a new Piedmont clinic soon. There are plans to bring a dental clinic to Doniphan in nearby Ripley County as well. 

Additionally, Missouri Highlands has created a dental mobile unit primarily used for schools within the region. The mobile unit schedules school visits at least six to eight months in advance and sends information packets home with children. White said most parents take advantage of the services so they don’t have to take off work to travel to a dentist who might be miles away.

“We go in and do oral health examinations, apply sealants, and we’re able to do full-spectrum dentistry out of that mobile unit,” White told The Heartlander.

The mobile dental unit also has been making rounds to local Head Starts, where they provide pediatric screenings and let the kids meet the dentists and hygienists to answer their questions. White said they often see generations of individuals who have rarely, if ever, seen a dentist in their lifetimes.

Due to the vast worker shortage, Missouri Highlands is doing its best to hire and retain dentists by offering to pay off student loans if they stay with the organization for a certain amount of time.

“It’s very frustrating for all of us,” White said. “We know the need is there but we just can’t recruit dentists to join our practice. I’ve talked with my cohorts across the state, and they have similar stories to share.”

To learn more about Missouri Highlands Health Care and find out how to utilize its programs, visit its webpage here

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