The television program “Frontline” will include Sarrell Dental Clinic in its latest episode, titled Dollars and Dentists, at 9 p.m. on PBS. The documentary-style program will examine the nation’s dental care system -- from its high costs and lack of proper coverage for millions of Americans to groups that are trying different methods to better serve patients.
Diane Herbert-Farrell, a spokeswoman for “Frontline,” said Monday that Sarrell will be included in a section of the episode that discusses different methods being tried across the country to address the nation’s dental care woes.
“The film looks at different states … the state of Florida, some work done in Virginia … we look at several of the models being tried,” Herbert-Farrell said. “We look at how are people looking at dental care.”
Jeff Parker, CEO of Sarrell, said a “Frontline” crew spent about 11 hours filming in the Anniston office, interviewing employees, patients and their families.
“I’m very pleased they chose us to use as a role model,” Parker said.
With 14 clinics across Alabama and a mobile bus, Sarrell is currently the main provider in the state of dental care for children on Medicaid and has had continuous growth since its first clinic opened in 2005. In its first year, Sarrell served 3,500 children. Last year, Sarrell served 105,000 patients and has served 350,000 patients to date.
“We’ve had 30 consecutive quarters of growth,” Parker said. “I think that shows how bad the need is.”
Parker has said Sarrell’s patient population is only a fraction of the children on Medicaid across the state. He said that in most Alabama counties, only about half of the children on Medicaid see a dentist each year. Most private dentists do not accept Medicaid patients because they believe Medicaid reimbursements are not profitable for them, Parker said.
Parker noted that through Sarrell’s efforts, costs to the government per patient visit have dropped considerably in recent years. When Sarrell first opened, the clinic billed Medicaid $328 per patient visit. By 2011, the cost had dropped to $131 per patient visit, Parker said.
According to a press release from “Frontline,” the new episode discusses solutions to the country’s dental care costs and the opposition to those changes by dentists and others. Last year, Sarrell concluded a nearly year-long struggle with the Alabama Dental Association and the state’s dental regulatory authority, the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners, over the existence of its clinics. Sarrell faced a legal challenge from the board and claimed the association was engaging in anti-competitive practices. One new state law and a Federal Trade Commission investigation later and Sarrell is now operating without complaint -- even agreeing to wipe the slate clean with the Dental Association by dropping a lawsuit against it for the alleged anti-competitive practices.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star