Nanaimo's low-cost dental clinic closes despite NDP touting increased funding

By Dominic Abassi
March 21, 2019 - 5:22pm

Dr. Robert Gillam and assistant Emily Jones serve a client at CODE Community Dental Clinic on Wallace St.Ian Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — A desperately needed low-cost dental clinic in Nanaimo remains closed, despite a promise of increased funding from the provincial government.

CODE Community Dental Clinic on Wallace St. closed its doors in mid-February because it ran out of operating funds. The shortfall came about due to a lower level of funding from Island Health, previously the main financial supporter of the non-profit operation.

"If CODE doesn't exist, there are limited options for someone who has an emergency dental need," said John McCormick, executive director of the Nanaimo Region John Howard Society which operates CODE. "NRGH does not have a dentist on staff...It means people are just being medicated and many of our clients, because they might be in addiction, are not going to be able to get pain relief from the hospital. It's a real problem."

Opened seven-years-ago, CODE is the only community dental clinic north of the Malahat and performs an average of 1,200 mainly emergency procedures each year. It offers services for typically about half of normal dental fees in B.C. and also provides people a pay-what-you-can model.

McCormick told NanaimoNewsNOW their clientele is diverse and ever-growing, ranging from families without dental coverage to students and street entrenched individuals.

"The clinic fills a really vital gap...increasingly I think in the province, and across the country, community dental clinics are going to play a really significant role. About 30 per cent of the population relies on a dental clinic like CODE."

CODE requires roughly $75,000 to $100,000 in funding annually to operate on a "shoestring budget," McCormick said. While they receive intermittent funding from the province through Island Health, the clinic is not considered a line-item in the budget to ensure a reliable source of money.

On Wednesday, the NDP government announced it would double grant funding available for low-cost dental care in B.C. over the next three years.

But for CODE, McCormick expected it would equate to $20,000 annually, only about 25 per cent of what is needed.

"If CODE is going to continue, we need the community in various throw some money into the program otherwise we don't really know how we can square that circle," McCormick said.

It's hoped the provincial dollars can re-open the clinic's doors, but McCormick said without a "demonstrated level of support from the community" it will likely open for a few months and then face closure again.

There's also concern the government's funding, funnelled through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and the highly-touted TogetherBC poverty reduction strategy, will mean a further reduction in Island Health support.

"Everyone recognizes that it is an important piece of health care for people in the region. Without it, there's going to be a lot of people really adversely affected. We need the community to demonstrate with their dollars that CODE matters," McCormick said.

The Ministry of Social Development said late Thursday it was working on a response to questions about the potential of additional funding for CODE and the impact on future Island Health support.

Nanaimo-area MLAs Sheila Malcolmson and Doug Routley did not respond to a request for comment.

Anyone wanting to donate to CODE via the John Howard Society can do so here.


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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