The acting director of the D.C. Department of Human Services yesterday ordered the city's 13 dental clinics to immediately resume providing dentures to poor residents, saying he was unaware people were being turned away since early July because dental officials believed they had exhausted the funds for lab services.
"What has happened was a communications gap," said David Rivers, the acting DHS director, who said $49,000 had been identified to be used for providing dentures.
Rivers said he and Public Health Commissioner Ernest Hardaway did not know that all clinics were told in early July by Dr. Joseph Payne, who is Hardaway's dental coordinator, that no further denture patients could be accepted because the $51,000 allocated for denture lab work had been spent.
As a result, several hundred low-income residents have been put on waiting lists for dentures until more money could be found. They were told they would likely have to wait until Oct. 1, when the new budget year begins.
The city controller's office also was auditing the dental program to determine if all the laboratory monies actually had been spent, Payne said. He said the department, like all those within the city government, was under orders not to overspend its budget.
After a news report of the waiting lists, Rivers said Payne was "only under the impression that he ran out of money. He did not go to his superior, Doctor Hardaway, and tell him."
Yesterday, Payne referred all calls to Hardaway's office.
Rivers said the $49,000 that will now be used for denture services is part of the original $1.7 million the city appropriated for dental services for the poor. "Any services that were cut off inadvertently, they are to operate normally," Rivers said. "Any instructions to the contrary will be null and void."
Hardway explained the "unfortunate snafu" this way: "The money was there. The money wasn't in the same place, but the money was there. The comptroller's office had moved the money to another category and did not tell the program people."
Cheryl Fish, a paralegal for Legal Counsel for the Elderly, a Washington group that helps senior citizens pay for dental care, commented, "I don't quite understand how it happened, but I'm grateful there's now money for people to get dentures."
Fish said senior citizens who need denture help are now being instructed to call the Department of Human Services, at 727-5122, to get assistance from the seniors dental program.