By Tara Bannow

The Bulletin

Advantage Dental, a provider that serves low-income patients across Oregon, has opened seven clinics since last summer — including one in La Pine — and two more are in the works.

The expansion, which will bring Advantage to 34 clinics in Oregon, was boosted by a combination of state and federal tax credits called New Market Tax Credits, a program Congress developed in 2000 to spur business investments and job creation in low-income communities.

Most of Advantage’s patients rely on the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon’s version of Medicaid, so the provider already had a good idea of where low-income patients lacked providers, said Tony Hill, Advantage’s accounting adviser.

OHP requires providers to demonstrate the ability to care for patients assigned to them, he said.

“So we put clinics in areas of rural Oregon where there was nobody else at so that we could demonstrate the capacity to be able to treat those lives,” Hill said.

La Pine’s clinic opened in January. Nikki Coe, Advantage’s district manager, said the demand has been high.

“We have a full schedule,” she said.

Other clinics have opened in John Day, Brookings, Albany, Milton-Freewater, Sutherlin and Canyonville, and clinics in Coos Bay and Lebanon will open before the end of the year.

The New Market Tax Credit program provides tax credits to lenders who, in return, lend money to the grant’s intended recipients. In this case, Wells Fargo was chosen as the lender, and Advantage ended up with roughly $6 million in tax credits to open the clinics, all of which went into remodeled buildings, Hill said.

To receive the tax credits, the project must create jobs in areas the U.S. Census Bureau has designated as being in poverty. Advantage says it will create 73 jobs in the nine communities with the new clinics.

The La Pine clinic, for example, employs two dentists, two dental hygienists, two dental assistants, a sterile technician and front desk receptionist, Coe said.

In reality, though, most of the people hired will come from outside of the communities in which the clinics are built, Hill said.

“A lot of them are rural communities, so there really isn’t necessarily the type of skill in that area,” he said.

Roughly 85 percent of Advantage patients rely on OHP, Hill said. Since that program’s eligibility expansion took effect this year, Advantage has seen about 129,000 new patients, he said. Many of the new patients had no other options for dental care, as many other providers have closed their doors to new OHP patients, Hill said.

“It’s been quite crazy,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0304,