Sunshine Medical and Dental Directors Talk Present and Future for the Clinic

The Sunshine Community Health Center has been in the news regularly since last summer, with most stories focusing on staffing controversy. Now, the Clinic has a permanent Medical Director in place once again.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning spoke with Medical Director Shelis Jorgensen and Dental Director Dr. William Frantz, and has this report:

Since last July, coverage of the Sunshine Clinic has focused on board meetings, community concern, and statements from former Executive Director David Bryant.  With a Medical Director in place once again, the story of the Clinic has begun to shift back to medical care.  On Thursday, I spoke with Shelis Jorgensen and dentist Dr. William Frantz regarding their plans for care at the Sunshine Community Health Center.

Shelis Jorgensen says that staff stability has been a focus, and that significant progress has been made.

“Right now, we don’t have any more locums on staff.  The four medical clinicians we have on staff are permanent hires.  Renee is a physician’s assistant, Kate Engelmann is a nurse practitioner, as I am, and Dr. Joan is back off maternity leave…”

Dr. Frantz, who joined the Clinic staff seven months ago after practicing privately in Pittsburgh, says that dental care at Sunshine has been expanded recently to include a number of procedures that were not part of the scope of services in the past.

“It’s changed a little bit, I think.  Before I came on board, it was more of an emergent type of appointment scheduling.  People would have toothaches and we would take care of it.  Now, we’re a little bit more reconstruction, full-mouth, changing people’s smiles.  It’s really quite rewarding.  It’s really just taking Dr. Weaver’s treatment another step.”

In addition to a more stable staffing environment, both Shelis Jorgensen and Dr. Frantz say that expanded involvement with local schools is a priority.  This will include on-site sports physicals this May at Su-Valley, as well as dental checks and possibly an enameling program for some elementary students.  Dr. Frantz says that he is also trying to encourage parents to have dental checks for children who are not old enough to go to school, yet.

“As far as pediatric patients go, they can come in for just a ride in the chair and count the teeth thing.  We don’t have to wait until there’s a problem.  We can get them accustomed to coming to the dentist early on.  It takes a lot of the fear out of them, too.  They actually like coming to see us.  I would say…age two or three…we’ll just do a simple tooth count.  Nothing too invasive.  Nothing too scary.”

Medical care for pediatric patients is also a priority for Sunshine.  Until recently, Shelis Jorgensen saw patients as part of a women and children’s clinic at the Northern Susitna Institute.  She says that program was facilitated through her previous employer, and is currently on hold. It may not be gone forever, though.

“I definitely am interested in continuing a relationship with NSI as they continue to grow and think about new buildings…and continuing discussion about the possibility of having a site down in Talkeetna.  I think there certainly is some need there, and I think it was well received, having a site there.  It’s just not something I can do right now, because there’s just a lot else that needs to be done.”

Shelis Jorgensen says she is currently seeing patients at the Sunshine Clinic two days per week, as well as in Willow.  In addition to pediatric care, the Clinic is looking to two recent surveys that were aimed at assessing the needs of patients in the Upper Valley.

“I would say both of them really spoke to our mental health challenges, in particular for our pediatric population, [as well as] in general.  A lot of the focus coming out of that is around behavioral health needs, which was great that we have this opportunity to possibly to some expansion to help meet those needs.”

Shelis Jorgensen also says that the Clinic is once again conducting lab work, x-rays, and other procedures that are requested by outside providers.  For a brief period, those services were suspended, but Jorgensen says that it’s important for the Clinic to provide them, since no other facility in the area can.  Additionally, the Clinic’s outpatient-based opioid treatment program is continuing.

In addition to medical services, Shelis Jorgensen says that community involvement is a major priority.  A number of events, including health fairs and an open house, are already scheduled.  She says that the goal is to encourage more patients in the Upper Valley to come back to the Clinic, or to come and see it for the first time.

To hear the entirety of my interview with Shelis Jorgensen and William Frantz, click the player below.


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