Emergency rooms becoming the new dentist's office

Emergency rooms becoming the new dentist's office
Dennis Jack, Golden Plains Community Hospital CEO
Dennis Jack, Golden Plains Community Hospital CEO

NewsChannel 10

Borger, Texas - Hospital emergency rooms across the panhandle are seeing a growing number of one type of patient they really can't help, dental patients.

But the emergency room, or emergency department as it's now being called, is not the place for them to be.

Golden Plains Community Hospital CEO Dennis Jack says, "We talk to them about going and seeing a dentist and they say, I can't afford to go see a dentist. We understand that, but they can't afford to come to an emergency department either. You can probably go have a tooth pulled at a dentist and pay $300 and get relief. You come to the emergency department and run up a bill of $300 and get temporary relief."

That's because the emergency room is no place for a tooth-ache or any other tooth-related problems. These doctors can't do much to help you.

Registered Nurse Monica Marshall explains, "We can give them pain medication to mask the pain, but it's not permanent. It's just a temporary fix and they are going to end up back in here for more pain medications if they don't get it fixed."

Not only is the patient unable to get the treatment they really need, the emergency room is also being clogged up with extra people who don't belong there.

Jack says, "If you come into an E.D. waiting room and all you have is an abscessed tooth, which is painful but not life-threatening, you're going to wait."

However, hospitals have an even bigger problem on their hands.

Marshall explains, "There's not a co-pay in the emergency room, therefore, they don't have to give us any money. At dentist's offices they make you pay up front."

Jack adds, "A lot of those patients that come in, don't have insurance. They don't have medicaid to pay for dental care at an E.D. because Medicaid knows that's not the right place, they don't reimburse for it."

Meaning the hospital is picking up the tab for those who cannot pay, and it adds up fast. Patients can generate a several hundred dollar bill just for visiting the emergency room and receiving minor treatment.

For the most part, the hospital can't turn them away.

There's another problem. A commonly-used pain medication for dental treatment, is also a commonly abused one.

Which makes it tough for emergency room doctors to decide if the patient is looking for a quick fix, or actually needs help.