February 04, 2008


Local access to dental care improving


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Dr. Shahida Qazi, left, and dental assistant Colleen Powers give attention to Brooke Williams, 7, at Qazi’s North Main Street office.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — In the waiting room of Dr. Sherry Qazi’s office on North Main Street midmorning Friday, Lacie Carmon, 7, was having a tough time deciding if she should go in for her appointment before her 13-year-old sister, Kelly.
To the relief of the girls’ mother, Terri Carmon, office manager Tabatha Marshall decided for her — Lacie would go first.
As part of the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile campaign, Qazi’s office was offering free dental screening, cleaning and fluoride treatment to low-income children.
Terri Carmon runs a family day care program out of her home and her children are without insurance coverage.
“They’re supposed to have cleanings every six months. We’ve been missing them,” Carmon said after filling out paperwork.
The girls had come in last year when Qazi had offered the program, Carmon said.
Marshall coordinates the Give Kids a Smile program in Qazi’s office and said this is the fourth year the office has participated in the program, which is in its sixth year.
This year saw the event’s biggest turnout yet, with seven children receiving care despite the February weather outside. There were two cancellations.
The Carmons had an easier time — they live on Madison Street.
Marshall said that Friday’s appointments were handled out of the office’s own pockets, but that this year the American Dental Association did send along a package with toothpaste, a toothbrush and educational brochures. Such packages are usually reserved for larger practices.
Like most dental practices in Cortland, Qazi’s does not usually accept Medicaid patients.
Several years ago, access to dental care for low-income children was identified as a problem area in Cortland County.
County Health Department Director Jackie Gailor said she believes the situation has improved since a 2004 study found there was only one dentist for every 6,018 low-income children.
According to national data, a single dentist for every 5,000 low-income children is considered “high need,” as stated in the 2007 Cortland Counts Community Report Card.
“We now feel that we are meeting the need as far as access to dental care for low-income and Medicaid clients,” Gailor said Thursday.
She identified the relocation of the Family Health Network’s dental clinic from Groton to Groton Avenue in Cortland as playing a big part in the improvement.
Julie Boden Schmidt, the executive director of the Family Health Network at 17 Main St., said the clinic is doing well. Although 2007 data is still being compiled, the clinic has definitely seen improvement since the move.
“We saw, in 2006, about 3,800 patients. And we did about 11,000 visits,” Boden Schmidt said Friday afternoon.
That amounts to between 500 and 1,000 more patients than were seen in Groton and about 3,000 more visits.
The staff has increased, from one dentist and several part-time dental hygienists in Groton to two-full time dentists, a budgeted position for a third dentist and two full-time hygienists.
The clinic focuses on three areas — education and preventative care, which includes cleanings, screenings and sealant treatments; emergency care (“It’s either swollen, or aching or both,” Boden Schmidt said); and restorative care, including fillings, dentures and extractions.
Payment at the clinic can be flexible. If a patient is under 200 percent of the federal poverty level and uninsured, the patient is eligible for a sliding fee scale, Boden Schmidt said.
The Family Health Network also runs school clinics at DeRuyter Central School, Cincinnatus Central School, Marathon’s Appleby Elementary School, and Cortland’s Parker and Randall elementary schools. The clinics do screenings, cleanings and sealant treatments.
Boden Schmidt said the Family Health Network also sends dental hygienists out with the Seven Valleys Health Coalition’s when they go to schools for education.
The Health Department makes sure that it includes oral health discussions with its clients, Gailor said, and that education is the department’s main goal.
That work is primarily being carried out through the Seven Valleys Health Coalition. The coalition compiles the annual Cortland County report card, which tracks indicators of health from year to year.
Coalition Executive Director Jackie Carlton said that while there has yet to be a second study documenting the availability of dental care to Cortland’s low-income population, she also believes things have improved.
The coalition was awarded a $5,000 grant from the American Dental Association for oral health education this year. That grant will help bring dental hygiene mascots Mighty Molar and Murray the Toothbrush into area schools for an educational skit, and the distribution of “goody bags” afterward. The dental care kits include toothbrushes, toothpaste, a two-minute timer to help younger children brush long enough, a fun coloring book and even a daily brushing calendar with a stamp pad to help children keep track.
Nevertheless, access to dental care remains a problem, Carlton said.
Many dentists do not accept Medicaid for preventative services such as screenings and cleanings, but some do for denture work or extractions, Carlton said. And while many dentists won’t accept new Medicaid patients, Carlton said they don’t drop patients who move into Medicaid eligibility after becoming patients.
Another major push for the coalition is access to fluoride treatment.
“That’s one of our biggest problem areas,” Carlton said Thursday. “The (federal) Healthy People 2010 goal is to have 75 percent of the public water supplies fluoridated, and I believe that Cortland is at zero.”
The village of Homer had added fluoride to its water, but stopped in 2005 after a push by residents. The village of Marathon has the capacity to fluoridate its water, but no longer does so.
“We’re still in the talking stages of how to address that. There’s such a strong anti-fluoridation movement, right now it seems our best bet is people doing it at home for themselves,” Carlton said.
Boden Schmidt said the lack of fluoridation is definitely a challenge in the area.
“We see a lot of children who, by the time they are 5 — I think our dentists said that they will have an average of five cavities by the time we see them,” said Boden Schmidt, pointing out that these types of problems are more prevalent in the low-income population.
“We’re trying to educate them that losing your teeth is not a given, and that if you take care of your teeth when you’re young, you won’t lose them when you’re older.”




School officials seek equity in state aid

Staff Reporter

Central New York school board members made sure their voices were heard by local state legislators on Saturday as the Central New York School Boards Association held its annual legislative breakfast Saturday morning.
The proposed cuts to BOCES aid, inequity in the distribution of monies to downstate versus upstate schools, unfunded mandates and the shifting of special education costs to school districts were all identified as issues. State officials were asked to help correct these problems in the 2008 budget.
The governor’s proposed 2008-09 state budget would increase aid to local school districts between 3.3 and 13.6 percent. The increases are part of a proposal to increase spending on school aid by 7.4 percent, to $21 billion statewide.
But an increase in aid does not necessarily fix the problems, said Rick Timbs, the executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.
“I think our problem is not with the adequacy of the money that’s on the table. It’s where the money is going,” Timbs told the crowd of about 80 elected school board members and school superintendents gathered in the Cortland Junior-Senior High School cafeteria.
Timbs said the process has lost all traces of predictability and that the push for equity between downstate schools and upstate schools has been marginalized.
State aid to BOCES decreased $34 million under the proposed 2008 budget, but the state has shifted responsibility for the evaluation of preschoolers suspected of having disability and has required that the districts assume a portion of the costs of these evaluations as well as institute pre-kindergarten programs for special education students. These special education costs were previously the responsibility of the counties.
Timbs called this a “zero sum game,” in which money is being moved around, only helping in one area to the detriment of another.
“When preschool and special ed hits our schools, our heads are going to be spinning,” Timbs said.
Timbs pointed to the numbers, comparing the value of property in downstate school districts and the amount of money available in those areas to upstate.



Chinese New Year celebrated

Children’s Museum hosts program for the Year of the Rat

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — While the Western celebration of the New Year has passed, the Chinese New Year will just be getting started Thursday. But those whole celebrate the Chinese New Year don’t have to squeeze all their partying into a single night — they have 15 days to wish each other prosperity and good health in the coming months.
The focus during the Chinese New Year celebration is on family, SUNY Cortland professor Lin Lin said Saturday.
Lin hosted an event observing the New Year at the Children’s Museum in the basement of O’Heron Newman Hall on Calvert Street.
The traditional Chinese calendar is based on lunar cycles, as opposed to the sun-based Western calendar, which the Chinese also use.
This year will be the Year of the Rat. The Chinese give each year an animal identifier, which rotates over a 12-year cycle.
Lin prepared for the imminent arrival of eager youngsters by teaching the student volunteers how to fold one of her personal favorites when it comes to origami, a traditional Japanese art of folding paper to create shapes of animals and other objects.
“This fish, I love it because my mother taught it to me when I was very young,” Lin told the six volunteers from the Early Childhood education department at the college.
Because it involves not only folding but cutting, it’s a little beyond origami proper, Lin said. But it’s still fun and unique and she’s never found a depiction of this style of fish in any origami book she has looked through.
The students folded and cut the paper to form the fish, some better than others.
Laura Albers, a junior who hails from Amityville in Suffolk County, seemed surprised that her first attempt at folding together a fish worked so well.
“That’s pretty cool. I’m not going to lie, that’s pretty cool,” Albers said as she beheld her fish, and soon began helping her peers make the folds in the right places.
Lin said that the fish, or “Yu,” are important to the Chinese New Year celebration and are common decorations at this time because they symbolize the surplus health and wealth that everyone hopes will visit them in the coming year.
“Every Chinese New Year’s dinner will include some kind of fish,” Lin said.




High voter turnout expected in primary Tuesday

More than 19,400 Cortland County residents are registered to vote in Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican presidential primary election.
Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe said he is hoping more than 30 percent of the registered voters come out to vote. Polling locations, however, have been consolidated.
“Some inspectors are out of the state this time of year,” Howe said. “We had to consolidate the polling locations to make sure we have enough inspectors to cover the primary.”
Polling locations are open from noon to 9 p.m. The following locations have been changed:
l District 3-2 polling location in the city Cortland, normally at the YWCA, has been relocated to the pump house on the Water Works property at 75 Broadway.
l District 7-2 polling location in the city, normally at Dexter Park, has been relocated to the County Office Building at 60 Central Avenue. The polls will be located in the activities room on the basement level floor.
Howe said with more interest in this year’s presidential race, he is hoping voters will remember how much power they have.
“There seems to be much more interest then there has been in the past,” Howe said. “My opinion is that with the outgoing administration, the field is wide open and there is a lot more interest. The sense I get is that I think Barack Obama has generated more interest to younger registered voters. I’m glad younger people are more interested; it will affect them in Social Security, health care.”
Howe said because the primary date is earlier than usual, New York will not have the opportunity to see the candidates and hear debates.

— Aimee Milks, staff reporter