Client: TAG Oral Care Center for Excellence

Source: NBC Chicago

A state law passed in 2021 allows dentists to offer pro bono services, but a state agency has yet to finalize the rules for a Chicago clinic to implement the law.

TAG Oral Care Center for Excellence wants to expand its free dental clinic in the West Loop, but the director says they can’t because of a hold up with the state.

“We have this wonderful facility and we’re doing the best we can, but we can’t expand the care until we are able to increase our workforce,” said Julie Frantsve-Hawley, the director of the center.

Operated by the same company that runs Aspen Dental, the center opened in July 2022. That’s about a year after the Illinois legislature passed a law in May 2021, allowing dentists to offer pro bono services.

Ninth District Representative Lakesia Collins sponsored that bill.

“This is critically important to the families in my district and across the state of Illinois who see access to good oral hygiene as a barrier,” Rep. Collins said.

But right now many of the rooms at the clinic at 1040 W. Randolph sit unused.

The problem is the center needs to expand its workforce, and that workforce will include dentists, licensed in other states, who come to the center for more training.

They need temporary licenses to operate in Illinois and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation hasn’t finalized the licensing rules yet.

“I’m urging them to finalize this as soon as possible. We’ve been waiting for too long,” Rep. Collins said.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation told NBC 5, “IDFPR continues to proceed with the development of the rules to implement this legislation, with the second version of the rules having been recently submitted to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for consideration. We will continue to work with JCAR to ensure the best possible creation of these rules to help ensure quality care and safety for everyone in Illinois.”

Rep. Collins said a vote by JCAR could come in January. Meanwhile, staff at the TAG Oral Care Center say the demand is exploding.

“Our waitlist right now, we have an additional 400 patients already with appointments to come in so our backlog is getting huge,” Frantsve-Hawley said.

Nathaniel Earsery is one of the 30 patients the center has been able to treat so far. He’s replacing the teeth he lost from years of drug use.

“I don’t have the teeth in yet, but I’m excited about the care,” Earsery said.

Now sober and working as a minister, Earsery is getting nine dental implants, all free of charge, through the center.

Earsery says he has already referred 30 people to the free clinic and he hopes they can expand soon.

“I pray to God that the state figures it out, because there’s a whole lot of people who need this care, who can’t afford it,” Earsery said.

To access the free care, patients must be Illinois residents who are eligible for Medicaid, or who are uninsured with a household income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.