Former Jiffy Mart in Wells River to become dentist office

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/17/2021 9:20:30 PM
Modified: 3/17/2021 9:25:49 PM

WELLS RIVER — In an unusual twofer, teeth and soil in Wells River may soon be a bit cleaner thanks to the purchase last month of a former Jiffy Mart by Bradford, Vt.-based Little Rivers Health Care.

Little Rivers, a federally qualified health center, plans to convert the former mini-mart and gasoline station downtown into a dental office by sometime next year, Andy Barter, Little Rivers chief operating officer, said in a phone interview. Part of the conversion will be remedying environmental contamination at the site.

Little Rivers purchased the 0.4-acre site, which sits next to its Wells River primary care clinic, from the South Burlington-based Champlain Oil Co. on Feb. 26 for $135,000. That price included a $20,000 donation from the oil company, Barter said.

“It’s almost 10 years that we’ve been strategically hoping for (and) working towards a solution for dental services,” Barter said.

Though there are some dentists in nearby Bradford, they are busy so it can be hard even for those with private insurance to get an appointment locally, Barter said. And it is especially difficult for those with either Vermont or New Hampshire Medicaid, he said.

“It’s going to improve the health of the people in the communities we serve, regardless of someone’s ability to pay for it,” he said.

The clinic will have a prime location, on Route 5, also known as Main Street, at the junction with Route 302 leading to Woodsville.

For now, patients with Medicaid are forced to travel to federally qualified health centers, which offer services on a sliding fee scale based on income, in either Plainfield, Vt. or Littleton, N.H., he said. In Windsor County, Springfield Medical Care Systems, another FQHC, also operates dental clinics in Chester and Ludlow.

Dana Michalovic, the executive director of White River Junction’s Good Neighbor Health Clinic and Red Logan Dental Clinic, welcomed the news of Little Rivers’ plans for a dental clinic.

“There’s a huge need for dentists in practice who can accept Vermont Medicaid,” Michalovic said.

Red Logan cares for people without insurance, so Michalovic said the two clinics’ services won’t overlap and she expects they will be referring people to Little Rivers’ clinic. For now, Red Logan refers Vermonters with Medicaid to the clinics in Plainfield and Chester.

“People have to have cars,” she said.

While some Upper Valley dentists in private practice accept Medicaid patients, they only do so when they have enough patients with commercial insurance to offset the lower reimbursement from Medicaid, Michalovic said.

Robin Miller, Vermont’s oral health director, lauded Little Rivers’ efforts to address the community’s oral health needs. She said she previously worked with Little Rivers a few years ago when it got a grant to fund a public health dental hygienist in Bradford. That person has worked to help patients understand the connection between oral health and overall well-being, including its relationship to chronic disease and its importance in prenatal and pediatric care, Miller said. Though the grant ended in 2019, Miller said the hygienist is still there.

“I’m happy to see that it’s evolving,” Miller said of Little Rivers’ oral health work.

While the location at 55 Main St. is ideal in some ways, Little Rivers’ leaders might not have selected a former gas station for its dental clinic, Barter said. The property is a considered a brownfield site due to environmental contamination. Barter said the biggest concern is what types of chemicals might have leached into the soil between 1937 and 1981, when it was home to a filling station.

“The former owner was very patient,” Barter said of Champlain Oil, which had owned the property since 1982. “We had to be very cautious ... that we weren’t opening up a can of worms.”

Little Rivers worked with the Montpelier-based Stone Environmental to conduct an initial phase 1 environmental assessment last year. The property now is enrolled in the state’s Brownfields Reuse and Environmental Liability Limitation Program and Little Rivers with Stone Environmental is further studying the soil on the property to determine whether it needs to install a sub-slab depressurization system to draw contaminated air from the soil beneath the building and discharge it to the atmosphere.

The building will “either need that or it won’t,” Barter said.

The organization is pursuing grant funding and donations for the project, which Barter said he expects may total $1 million.

He said he’s hopeful that construction on the building will begin this fall and the 3,000-square-foot clinic will open sometime in 2022. He expects it will employ a total of about 12 workers, including at least one full-time dentist.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at

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