Major Donation To New Dental School Benefits A State In Need Of More Dentists

North Carolina’s newest dental school recently received a major boost with the May 9 announcement of a $32 million donation from the Rick and Angie Workman Foundation. North Carolina, the ninth most populous state and among the nation’s fastest growing, currently has two dental schools but will soon have a third in High Point. High Point University, a private institution, expects to enroll its first class of dental students at the Workman School of Dental Medicine in September 2023.

“We are blessed by the generous gifts from leaders like Dr. Rick Workman and his wife,” said High Point University (HPU) President Dr. Nido Qubein. “Gifts like these keep our community and the HPU family growing. Our growth is due to merit and by design, and we appreciate the faithful courage from the entire HPU family as we expand our academic schools and campuses.”

The source of the $32 million contribution is Dr. Rick Workman, founder of Heartland Dental, a 25 year old company that supports more than 1,600 dental offices across 37 states. Dr. Workman will also serve as HPU’s Dental Innovator in Residence.

“This is a transformational gift for the School of Dental Medicine,” said Dr. Scott De Rossi, the founding dean of HPU’s dental school, and former dean of the University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry. “Dr. Workman is a pioneer in the field of dentistry dedicated to excellence in our profession. He knew a gift this size would help us lead the way in oral health care and education. With this gift, we will create a dental program second to none. It is an honor for our school to carry the Workman name.”

De Rossi notes how Dr. Workman’s donation is a major boon to HPU’s new dental school. But Workman’s contribution will also help the entire state of North Carolina, where the supply of dental care providers is insufficient. American Dental Association data for 2021 shows North Carolina has approximately 55 dentists for every 100,000 residents, while the national average is nearly 61 dentists per 100,000. Almost all of North Carolina’s 100 counties are classified as either a partial or full Dental Health Professional Shortage Area.

HPU’s new dental school is expected to have an enrollment of 240 students once fully operational. Combined with the other two dental schools in the state, housed at UNC and East Carolina University, HPU’s new dental school will significantly increase North Carolina’s capacity to produce new dentists, helping alleviate the state’s inadequate supply of dental care providers.

In addition to the launch of HPU’s new dental school, state lawmakers may consider legislative action in the 2023 session to help expand access to oral health care. Such priorities would be consistent with North Carolina’s previous record of regulatory reform, which lawmakers are in the process of building upon during the short legislative session convened on May 18.

North Carolina is often pointed to as a model for pro-growth tax reform and spending restraint. However, under the leadership of Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) and Speaker Tim Moore (R), North Carolina has also been a national leader in regulatory reform. In fact, since Republicans took control of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010, most years have seen North Carolina legislators enact one or more regulatory reform bills. North Carolina lawmakers are now considering a new round of regulatory reform that will allow nurse practitioners to more freely provide care to patients, expand access to telehealth services, and subject fewer projects to certificate of need requirements that have been shown to impede the supply of health care providers.

Unlike other major statehouse policy debates, the prospects for reforms that expand access to dental care, because the appeal is bipartisan and cross-ideological, are not dependent on whether Republicans win back veto-proof super-majorities in the North Carolina House and Senate this November. As such, don’t be surprised if regulatory reforms, including new proposals to expand access to dental care and other types of care, end up on the 2023 legislative agenda in North Carolina, as well as other states, no matter how the midterm elections turn out.

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