The only specialized dental clinic for adults with disabilities in eastern Ontario is facing "significant financial challenges," according to the head of dentistry at the Ottawa Hospital.

The Ottawa Civic Hospital Dental Clinic services 6,000 patients from Belleville to Hawkesbury.

But Dr. Kevin Butterfield wrote in a letter distributed at the clinic that it is strapped for cash because more than 80 per cent of patients receive social assistance and are therefore subject to substantially reduced fees.

"These fee guides have not been updated since 2009 and the clinic is now experiencing significant financial challenges. All cost-saving measures within the clinic have been exhausted, yet we are still running a deficit," Butterfield wrote.

Normand Bergevin has written his own letter to the province on behalf of his brother, who is a spastic quadriplegic with a developmental delay, calling for an influx of cash.

"Because of the type of clients that they have they're operating on reduced fees, which have been frozen since 2009, and it makes no sense. They can't keep operating that way and provide an adequate service," Bergevin said.

"This is a highly specialized and a very, very needed service that they're providing to the community."

He said his 66-year-old brother has been waiting "many, many months" for an appointment at the specialized clinic.

"He's never walked. Doesn't talk. And he uses one arm," Bergevin said.

"You know, you can't fit him in a regular dental chair and just take a run-of-the-mill dentist and say, 'Look at him.'" 

Clients at high risk of low hygiene

A supervisor at Ottawa Rotary Home, a residence for adults with complex medical needs, received Butterfield's letter two weeks ago and has been redistributing it.

Angela Henderson said the clinic is an "exceptional facility" that understands the unique needs of patients with disabilities.

She hoped that the needs of an already vulnerable group will continue to be met.

"We're in fear that they're not going to receive the care that they deserve," she said. 

"People with medical issues, behavioural issues, physical limitations are at higher risk for poor hygiene. (They're) a very under-served population mainly because they can't communicate if they're having dental issues, there's lack of a perceived need. There's fear." 

The clinic is a self-supporting entity within the hospital. 

Cameron Love, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the Ottawa Hospital, said the letter is meant to raise awareness about the funding shortfall. The plan is to work with the ministry and the local integrated health network to develop a plan to fund the clinic.

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care said the Champlain LHIN is working with the clinic to find a solution.

Dr. Butterfield's letter about the Ottawa Civic Hospital Dental Clinic.

Mobile users click here to read Dr. Butterfield's letter about the Ottawa Civic Hospital Dental Clinic.