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Ludell Swenson and Guy Swansbro (copy)

Ludell Swenson, who has cerebral palsy, uses a chart to communicate as his live-in aide, Guy Swansbro, reads his message aloud during a visit to a Madison hardware store in this file photo from 2015. Swenson and other special needs patients were trying to figure out where to get sedation dental care after Meriter-UnityPoint Health closed the Max Pohle Dental Clinic.

UnityPoint Health-Meriter plans to resume sedation dentistry for special needs patients next month, at least partly replacing a service lost when Meriter closed its Max Pohle Dental Clinic in June 2015.

A community dentist will provide care in a Meriter operating room for patients who require general anesthesia for teeth cleaning and dental exams because their developmental disabilities or other conditions cause them to move or react when dentists work on their teeth.

The care will be part of a new partnership among Meriter and St. Mary’s and UW hospitals, Meriter spokeswoman Leah Huibregtse said. She declined to name the dentist who will participate.

“It’s good news that there will be an option in Madison for people who need sedation for their dental care,” said Kim Turner, chairwoman of the Developmental Disabilities Coalition of Dane County.

Before closing Max Pohle, Meriter said it lost nearly $600,000 a year from the clinic. Under the new partnership, the three hospitals will share the cost, Huibregtse said.

It’s not clear if the new arrangement will be able to handle all of the sedation patients who used the Max Pohle clinic. The focus will be on Medicaid patients in Dane, Rock, Iowa, Sauk and Columbia counties, Huibregtse said.

About 95 of the former clinic’s 1,800 annual patients required sedation dentistry, some from various parts of the state.

“We’re unsure at this time what the full capacity will be,” Huibregtse said.

Many former Max Pohle patients not needing anesthesia have been able to go to Access Community Health Centers, which received $1 million from Meriter last year to expand its dental services.

Access can’t offer dental care with anesthesia because it doesn’t have an operating room.

Meriter said last year that special needs patients could go to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in Minneapolis, which agreed to take Wisconsin patients even though it had a waiting list. Advocates for disabled people said it’s difficult for patients requiring sedation dental care to go that far.

Meanwhile, a new dental clinic only for special needs patients is opening next week in Milwaukee.

The clinic, at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, will offer only partial sedation initially, using medications such as Valium and nitrous oxide, said Laura Cherek, director of dental services at St. Ann.

Within a year, the clinic hopes to make arrangements with hospitals in Milwaukee to provide anesthesia to patients requiring full sedation, Cherek said. The clinic will take patients from around Wisconsin, she said.

St. Ann received $270,000 from the state Department of Health Services for the clinic over three years, along with a grant from Delta Dental and donations from other groups. The center plans to rely on fundraising to remain viable, Cherek said.

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