Ohio Dentist Loan Repayment Program helps clinic treat patients in need

Dr. Amanda Forche (left) works at Holzer Dental Health Partners and began her contract with the ODLRP in February 2015.

The Ohio Dentist Loan Repayment Program provides loan repayment for dentists who practice in a designated shortage area, treat Medicaid patients and provide care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. The goal of the program is to attract dentists to areas with a low volume of providers while at the same time assisting graduates in paying off their student loan debt.

One clinic that has benefited from the ODLRP is Holzer Dental Health Partners in Jackson County. So far the clinic has had three dentists work there who participated in the ODLRP.

“I think the main obstacle in recruiting dentists to our area is the location.  We are in a rural area, with the closest major city being Columbus, which is a 90 minute drive,” said Sheri Derrow, office manager for Holzer Dental Health Partners. “I usually work with The Ohio State University College of Dentistry when recruiting.  The loan repayment program was the deciding factor for three of the last four dentists recruited to work at DHP.”

Dr. Amanda Forche works at DHP and began her contract with the ODLRP in February 2015. She said the ODLRP was a major factor that led her to practice at this site.

“When I graduated, I did not have a specific location in mind to begin my career,” she said. “I applied for my current job knowing that I would be in a qualified area to apply for the ODLRP. It was a major reason I became a part of this practice, where I have now been able to treat so many patients without access to care. I am so happy practicing in this location – I love my patients and the people I work with, and I could not be more thankful that the ODLRP led me here.”

Dr. Sean Byers contracted with the ODLRP from 2007 until 2010, during which time he worked at DHP. He grew up in the Jackson area, and the ODLRP helped encourage him to move back home to practice.

“When I was close to graduating dental school I was offered a position at Dental Health Partners in Jackson, the area where I grew up,” he said. “While applying for the job, I found it was a clinic which qualified for ODLRP and began talking with the Ohio Department of Health. They were very helpful during the application process and I was later accepted. While going back to the area I grew up in was nice, the thought of help from the ODLRP made the decision easier thinking of the reduction of future payments while caring for patients in need of dental treatment.”

After completing his contract in 2010, Byers opened a private practice in Circleville, but he continues to practice part-time at DHP to help care for patients he had gotten to know in Jackson.

Dr. Brian Morris also practiced at DHP after graduation and received loan repayment through the ODLRP.  He and his wife are both from Jackson, so upon graduation Morris knew he wanted to practice in that area. He was glad he was able to find a clinic where he wanted to practice that qualified for the ODLRP.

“I went into the program because I had a lot of student debt and it allowed me to lessen that burden,” he said. “It was nice that there was a clinic in the town that I wanted to live in that qualified.”

Morris has completed his contract with the ODLRP, and now has a private practice in Jackson.

“I live in an area that has a large under insured or Medicaid population.  Those folks don’t have very many options to receive care,” he said. “When I was at DHP, a huge percentage of my patients were Medicaid or uninsured people that qualified for our sliding fee scale.  Those families would have a hard time receiving care if not for clinics like Holzer’s.”

Derrow said DHP is the only clinic in the area that takes new Medicaid patients and offers a sliding fee scale. The clinic sees about 10,000 to 12,000 patients each year, and about half of them do not have dental insurance or public assistance.

“Having dentists that participate in the ODLRP is an incentive for our facility to continue to see the underserved patients,” she said. “If not for our clinic, I do not know where these patients would be able to seek treatment.”

Forche said that working at DHP has increased her awareness of the access to care problems in Ohio.

“The program has really opened my eyes to the number of people who are in need of dental care and do not have access to it,” she said. “While I have always been aware that there are underserved areas, it is much different to see it first hand and get to play a role in providing that access to care. No matter where I practice in the future, I will always try to do my part to help provide care to those without access because of my experience in this program.”

In addition to helping under-served patients, the ODLRP helps graduates pay off their student loans. According to the American Dental Association, average dental student loan debt in 2014 was $247,227.

“The ODLRP offers a great incentive to providers right out of school to be able to repay significant portions of their student loans early in their careers,” Forche said.

Byers agreed, and said he was able to reduce his commitment from three different loans to one loan by the end of his three years in the ODLRP. 

The ODLRP is fully funded by Ohio Dentists, who pay a $40 surcharge that goes directly toward the ODLRP when they renew their dental licenses every two years.

“I think the program is a good allocation of funds to help dental professionals think about moving and taking positions in needed areas to care for that population of people; while trying to keep the same level of trained professionals compared to more locations where dentists are more densely numbered,” Byers said.

Since 2005, 25 dentists have participated in the ODLRP and provided care to more than 100,000 patients, 79 percent of which were uninsured or on Medicaid.  

Areas served by the ODLRP include Akron, Barberton, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Dover, Freeport, Jackson, Loudonville, Mansfield, Napoleon, Piketon, Springfield, Toledo and Zanesville.

“The ODLRP has been successful at bringing providers to underserved areas,” Forche said. “The next challenge is getting an increase in Medicaid reimbursements so that these dentists can continue to treat these patients and keep their doors open. In 2015, our clinic was at risk of closing because of the high percentage of patients under Medicaid and Managed Care Plans we treat. The low reimbursements were not even enough to cover our costs of providing the services.”

Apply for the ODLRP

The Ohio Dentist Loan Repayment Program application is now available! For more information, click here or email kristy@oda.org.