WEST WARWICK — Thundermist Health Center leaders, board members, state and local officials and others gathered recently to break ground on the new Thundermist dental building, an $8.6 million project in the heart of Arctic Village.
“One year from now, we aim to have a two-story revitalized building that’s going to dramatically increase access to dental care to Rhode Islanders in need,” Jeanne LaChance, CEO of the nonprofit health center, said during a ceremony to mark the exciting occasion.
Located at 5 Washington Street, where Bank of America was once housed, the building will undergo extensive renovations that will include the addition of a second story.
The state-of-the-art facility will feature 21 dental operatories, compared to 12 at the current clinic, and will provide full accessibility for those in wheel chairs. The project, designed by Vision 3 Architects, is expected to be completed in late 2022, and will allow Thundermist to serve an additional 5,500 patients.
Eric Prosseda, chief dental officer at Thundermist, said that he’s “immensely proud” to support the project.
“I care for patients every day,” Prosseda said, “and see first hand that the need for high quality dental care in our community has never been greater.”
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted access to dental care significantly, he said, as offices closed and people left unemployed and without health insurance benefits delayed routine care.
Thundermist continued to serve those patients, Prosseda said, but there are still more than 1,200 patients seeking dental care on its waiting list.
“We want to be sure those people and others can get the dental care they need,” he said, “and this building will help us do that.”
Dental care is a key piece to maintaining overall health, said Prosseda, who added that gum disease is linked to things like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
For Edward Dalton, a Thundermist dental patient who spoke during the ceremony, a difficult financial situation left him unsure of how he would afford to take care of his teeth.
“I wouldn’t have my teeth if it weren’t for you people,” said Dalton, who after experiencing a lot of pain was told he needed an emergency extraction. “They saw me right away. The experience changed my life and the way I look at dental care.”
In addition to serving more people like Dalton, the project will contribute to efforts to revitalize Arctic Village — Thundermist has worked closely with the Arctic Village Redevelopment Agency throughout the process of bringing the plans for this new facility to fruition, LaChance said.
“As essentially a life-long West Warwick resident, it’s very exciting to see good things happening here in town,” Mark Knott, West Warwick’s town manager, said during the ceremony.
Calling Thundermist a “staunch advocate for West Warwick’s wellbeing,” Knott added that he’s happy to see the health center continuing to grow in the town.
Plans to build the facility began in 2017. The project was supported by a $1.2 million capital campaign, Building a Community of Smiles, to which Delta Dental of Rhode Island made a leadership gift of $350,000.
The new dental building has been a top priority for LaChance, she said, shortly before stepping inside, where she and several others took the first swings of demolition.
“And today we are here to take the next steps on making this vision come true,” she said.