Citing continued budget shortfalls, the University of Minnesota plans to close a dental clinic on the West Bank that primarily serves patients with low incomes and complex needs and disabilities.
Todd Thierer, acting dean of the School of Dentistry, said Wednesday's decision was difficult given the needy patients, but necessary given the school's increasing budget shortfall. "The last thing we want to do is close the program," he said, "certainly in the Cedar-Riverside area, which is an underserved area."
The clinic serves 7,500 patients and is staffed in part by eight dentists completing one-year general practice residencies. It will close next summer after their residencies end.
The clinic was known for treating complex patients, such as those who are paralyzed or suffer from bleeding disorders, tumors or mental conditions that present challenges for traditional dental clinics.
Thierer said the care of these patients is already moving to the university's new outpatient surgery center on the East Bank. Other patients will be referred to nearby clinics.
Budget documents show rising enrollment and grants to the dental school between 2009 and 2014. But the school went into deficit in 2015, when $69.6 million in costs surpassed $66.6 million in revenue and reserves.
Dental school leaders proposed the clinic closure in August, but waited to see if faculty could figure out ways to stabilize its finances. Thierer said that proved unrealistic because 75 percent of the clinic's patients are covered by Medical Assistance, a state-federal program that reimburses dentists at low rates.
The clinic "just can't break even," he said.
The closure also means the end of the schools' general practice residency. Thierer said it was something of an extra because graduating dentists are able to enter general practice without this additional training in every state but New York and Delaware. Residencies in other dental specialties will continue.
A 10 percent tuition hike could have solved the budget problems, but Thierer said school leaders opted against that. In-state tuition is more than $44,000 per year for the dental school — which is comparable to other dental schools but is higher than tuition at the U's medical school and all other graduate and undergraduate programs.
Raising tuition "is not sustainable in the long run," said Thierer, who replaced the former dean on Aug. 31. A permanent replacement will take over later this month.
Faculty attrition and other cuts are being considered.