Christian Cooke drives Valley Family Health Care’s mobile access care unit, a dental van that makes stops several times a month in the Treasure Valley. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

VALE – Clarine Ziegenbein missed her ride to her dentist appointment in Nyssa last week. But it was her lucky day. 

Valley Family Health Care’s Mobile Access Care Unit was in town.

Since last May, the dental van has parked in front of the clinic in Vale every third Wednesday of the month for dental cleanings. 

The rig returns every fourth Friday when a dentist is available for checkups, including extractions, fillings and x-rays. The van’s next stop in Vale is Friday, Jan. 24.

The mobile unit travels throughout the Treasure Valley to provide affordable, accessible dental care for residents who may otherwise go without, said Kacie Crays, a dental hygienist who works on the van. 

Patients are encouraged to make an appointment at 541-473-2101, but walk-ins are welcome.

“It’s just like being in a dental office,” Crays said.

Ziegenbein, a resident at Pioneer Place for nearly three years, came in for a cleaning last Wednesday. The van is wheelchair accessible so Ziegenbein’s motorized scooter chair was loaded on and Crays moved into the cleaning right away.

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Prices are on a sliding scale. A cleaning can be as low as $20 depending on the patient’s income and household size. Extractions can cost as low as $35. The service accepts all types of insurance, including Medicaid. 

“We’re one of the very few dental companies in a really big area that accepts Medicaid for dental for adults,” said Penny Weymouth, manager of the mobile access care unit.

Crays said she hasn’t been as busy as she’d like. Following low attendance, the time set for monthly visits on Wednesdays was cut. Now the van is in town from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for cleanings. Before the cuts, Crays would stay until around 4 p.m.

The Friday visits still go from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

With the new hours she’s able to see three to four patients per visit. 

Dental hygienist Kacie Crays cleans Clarine Ziegenbein’s teeth aboard the mobile access care unit, which stops in Vale every third Wednesday of the month for cleanings and every fourth Friday for other procedures. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

“We’d like to get back to being here all day,” said Crays, but there simply weren’t enough patients. Last Wednesday, she only had two appointments. 

A worse fate happened in Jordan Valley, Unity, Harper and Juntura; the mobile unit stopped going there altogether after not seeing enough patients to make the trip financially feasible. 

“No one was coming to see us,” said Christian Cooke, who drives the mobile unit. 

He thinks the low turnout may be because residents simply don’t know about the van. It’s too bad, said Cooke, who has witnessed the difference such a service can make. He moved to Idaho after years of working in remote Alaskan clinics. 

“We had one lady out in Jordan Valley who hadn’t been to the doctor in 25 years,” he said. “We had to coax her onto the van.”

But in Emmett, Idaho, the mobile unit took off. It’s so popular among residents there that the van now goes four times a month. And it’s packed every time, Cooke said. 

Besides providing affordable care, Crays said some patients have come to prefer the small setting of the van, equipped with one dental chair.

“A lot of patients prefer coming on the bus because they say it’s more personal,” Crays said. 

Because they can only work on one patient at a time, the service is slower paced, she added, which some patients with dental anxiety seem to prefer. 

The mobile unit is equipped with the dental chair on one side and a medical exam room on the other. A small waiting area sits between the two spaces. 

“We’re looking to expand medical right now,” said Weymouth. 

The mobile unit currently travels to Huntington in addition to Emmett and Vale. This month it will also begin traveling to New Plymouth. 

They also partner with Snake River Correctional Institution, Treasure Valley Community College and other local schools. 

A new partnership with a homeless day shelter at Origins Faith Community, an Ontario church, is also kicking off at the end of January. 

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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