By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Hunter White does what every other nearly 4-year-old does, except go to the dentist.
A medical card would provide dental care for Hunter, but the nearest provider is in Virginia, in Cass County, far from Hunter's Pittsfield home.
Starting next week, though, dental care will be available close to home.
The Pike County Dental Clinic has an open house on Monday at 606 W. Adams in Pittsfield and officially opens for business Wednesday to serve the oral health needs of low-income children in Pike County and the surrounding area.
"I think that a lot of people will go to the dentist, especially ones with kids," said Ariel White, Hunter's mom.
The clinic will serve children through age 21 who have coverage through Medicaid or are income eligible with no dental insurance.
Trying to provide dental care has been a struggle for White, who also has a 6-month-old daughter Savanna. She's looking forward to having a clinic in Pittsfield to care for both her kids -- and so is Hunter, who already takes good care of his teeth.
"He does good brushing," White said.
Making sure that youngsters like Hunter have a dental home in Pike County was the goal when planning for the clinic began in 2005.
Seeing that dream about to come true still feels "kind of surreal" to Pike County Health Department Administrator Anita Andress.
"Isn't it wonderful?" Andress asks while walking through the clinic. "I'm ready for everyone to see it. We've been waiting a long time for this to happen. It's just so important to us to bring this to our children, to the county."
The Pike County Health Department owns and operates the clinic, staffed by Dr. Sreekanth Emani and three assistants -- Laura Ruzich, Meggan Arnold and Angie Stover. Long-time local dentist Dr. Stephen Liesen serves as the volunteer dental director for the clinic, which already has a long waiting list of patients.
"The need is great down here in Pike County," said Greg Sandidge, the clinic consultant who oversaw the building renovations. "We're hoping to have 1,500 patients in our first year."
Renovation work on the building, formerly a Quincy Medical Group clinic, was down to the final details this week.
Other locations had been considered for the dental clinic, most recently as part of a consolidated health services building project, before the department bought the West Adams site from the Health and Wellness Foundation of Pike County. Sandidge and architect Monte Stock worked with local contractors, led by general contractor Pike County Contractors, on the building renovations. A specialty contractor, Henry Schein, installed the dental equipment.
"We were able to purchase the building and do the renovations and buy all the equipment with our grant funds" from the Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation and Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Andress said. "Our money has gone a long way in making this happen."
The clinic's suites feature all the equipment common to any private practice.
"We have state-of-the-art digital X-ray, probable one of our biggest accomplishments, and we have electronic health record to give people that feel of a dental home. Even if they grow and move on, we can send their records anywhere in the world electronically," Sandidge said.
Just down the hallway is the clinic's Panorex, an X-ray machine "that can take a full circle of your head and help with medical diagnosis," Sandidge said. "It's totally electronic, controlled by computer."
The dental clinic uses a portion of the building with the rest, and a planned addition, earmarked as a new home for the health department, now based at 113 E. Jefferson in a building that will be sold.
"We'll be bidding it in December, start renovation in January," Sandidge said. "We will be locating everybody over here and have everything completed by next June. That's our target date."
The federal government shutdown slowed the planning process and possible funding for the work, but "plans and specs are ready to go for Phase 2," Sandidge said.
An open house will be 2 to 5 p.m. Monday at the Pike County Dental Clinic, 606 W. Adams in Pittsfield.
The public is invited to meet the dental clinic staff and tour the newly renovated space housing the dental clinic.
The Pike County Chamber of Commerce and the city of Pittsfield will have a ribbon cutting for the clinic at 2 p.m.
The clinic will serve the oral health needs of low-income children in Pike County and the surrounding areas.
Appointments for children aged 21 and younger are available by calling (217) 285-5311.
More information about the dental clinic and the open house is available by calling the Pike County Health Department at (217) 285-4407.