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Granite Co. Medical Center Earns Natl. Award

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PHILIPSBURG -

The Granite County Medical Center in Philipsburg wins a national award for establishing the first dental clinic in the county in more than a decade.

For ten years, people living in Granite County had to drive at least 50 miles to get their teeth cleaned. Then in 2010, the Granite County Medical Center received $821,000 in federal funding to launch a mobile dentist van, which expanded into a two-chair dental clinic in 2012.

Sharon Fillbach, the Granite County Dental Program Coordinator, said, "It shows that good things do happen in small communities and together, you know, everybody can make it work."

And it was community members who identified dental care as a top priority in a 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment, done by the Montana Office of Rural Health, and funded by the state Rural Hospital Flex Grant.

Carol Bischoff, Director of the Montana Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant, said, "Well, I think it's just a really great example of how a very small hospital -- one of the smallest critical access hospitals in the state -- has capitalized on resources available to them."

Now, the community's innovative effort to bring dental care to Granite County has earned the medical center the "Critical Access Hospital Recognition" award from the National Health Resource Center.

Officials said there are 1,328 critical access hospitals across the nation, and the Granite County Medical Center in Philipsburg was one of only five to receive this national award.

"It just kind of solidifies all the hard work that's been going on here to keep the project going," said Fillbach.

Currently, the dental clinic is open just two days a week, and run by two dentists. One of them, Russell Blackhurst, drives from Missoula every Friday to see 4-10 patients.

"It's just a really good thing -- it helps a lot of people that maybe haven't had the help that they've needed with the health of their mouth, and it's nice to make it a little easier for them," Blackhurst said.

Officials said they hope to increase the dental clinic's days to three per week.

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