DentaQuest Announces 2021 Health Equity Heroes: Champions of The Pandemic
Health leaders in 12 states awarded for expanding access to equitable care during pandemic and beyond
On its inaugural Health Equity Hero Day today, DentaQuest, a purpose-driven oral health care company dedicated to improving the oral health of all, announced its 2021 Health Equity Heroes: Champions of the Pandemic. Now in its seventh year, the DentaQuest Health Equity Hero program celebrates individuals who preserve access to equitable oral care and health care for all. This year, DentaQuest chose heroes who assisted those most at-risk during the pandemic and who continue to expand that access today.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, it is clear we are at a crossroads in our health system. We must build toward a new, more equitable system that breaks down barriers to care and improves health outcomes for everyone,” said DentaQuest President and CEO Steve Pollock. “These Health Equity Heroes are actively making that health system a reality. Our 2021 class committed themselves to preserving access to care throughout the pandemic for those who often get left behind. We are honored to highlight them on our inaugural Health Equity Hero Day and thank them and so many others who are creating a more equitable future in oral health care.”
In addition to celebrating and promoting the contributions of the 2021 Health Equity Heroes, DentaQuest is providing a $5,000 charitable contribution in the name of each hero to a nonprofit of their choice.
The 2021 DentaQuest Health Equity Heroes are:
Adele Della-Torre, DDS, co-founded Ready, Set, Smile (RSS) in Minneapolis to deliver trauma-informed, culturally competent dentistry for children across 27 Minneapolis public schools where more than half of the students are of immigrant descent with limited resources. RSS has helped reduce the number of children with untreated tooth decay by 25% and decrease the number of students with urgent needs from 15% to 7% among children enrolled in its school-based oral health program. During COVID-19, Dr. Della-Torre and her team sought partnerships with community-based organizations to continue running clinics and serve many of the children who would not have received any services without RSS. Dr. Della-Torre is using her award donation to continue the work of Ready, Set, Smile.
Kadambari Rawal, BDS, CAGS, MSD, FASGD, FICD, FACD, geriatric dentist and Clinical Assistant Professor at Boston University’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, is an oral health advocate for older adults living in long-term care; a growing population with glaring deficiencies in care access. As the pandemic restricted several critical services at long-term care facilities, Dr. Rawal helped implement teledentistry and on-call emergency oral health care protocols for the provision of essential dental services to at-risk patients. Her work was featured in Boston District Dental Society and Special Care Dentistry. She also co-authored a chapter in Dental Clinics of North America, highlighting the growing oral health needs of older adults. With faculty appointments at BU and Harvard University, Dr. Rawal is dedicated to educating the next generation of dentists in geriatric care. Dr. Rawal is directing her award donation to the Smiles for Success Foundation and AID’s COVID Relief Fund for India.
Yashashri Urankar, DDS, and chief dental officer at Community Health Centers of South-Central Texas, partnered with local emergency departments and urgent care centers throughout the pandemic to continue oral health care for the 20,000 patients the centers serve across the most vulnerable communities of south-central Texas. While telehealth played a significant role in continuing doctors’ visits and behavioral health appointments, it was not yet permitted for virtual dental appointments. Dr. Urankar advocated for the authorization of teledentistry during this time and supported Texas HB 2056, which Governor Abbot signed into law in June. Dr. Urankar is supporting Gajanan Maharaj America Devotees Parivar and Central Texas Food Bank with her award donation.
Debbie Oswalt and the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF) have helped uninsured Virginians and those in hard-to-reach communities receive medical, dental and mental health care for nearly 30 years. By investing more than $57.5 million to help establish and expand many of the state’s health safety net clinics, VHCF has enabled more than 3.5 million patient visits. Oswalt has also led the growth of Virginia’s dental safety net by funding more than half of the 100 clinics that currently serve the communities. In addition, VHCF has generated $6.3 billion in free medications for uninsured patients with chronic illnesses, and enrolled more than 125,000 Virginians, including uninsured children, in state-sponsored health insurance. As the Executive Director of VHCF, Oswalt’s advocacy work for Medicaid adult dental benefits helped secure the approval of the bill in 2020, enabling more than 750,000 Virginians to become eligible for comprehensive dental benefits. As the bill takes effect, Oswalt plays another important role: ensuring that Virginia’s dental safety net clinics are able to manage the influx of new adult dental patients. Oswalt is directing her award donation to the Virginia Health Care Foundation.
Karen Fields-Lever, DDS, is the president and owner of 28 to Brush which offers preventive oral health services to the Chicagoland area and more than 16,000 Chicago public school students. These students have diverse racial, ethnic backgrounds and typically reside in under-resourced communities. Through her work in the schools, Dr. Fields-Lever has increased access to treatment for children by 50% year over year and introduces children to the dental profession. During the pandemic, Dr. Fields-Lever continued treating patients through teledentistry and emergency visits. As one of the few Black female dentists in the Chicagoland area, Dr. Fields-Lever is a STEM champion for young students and a mentor to aspiring women pursuing careers in oral health care. Dr. Fields-Lever is sharing her award donation with several community nonprofits, including Black Village Foundation, Urban Initiatives, Breakthrough, Spelman College and Oak Grove AME Church.
David Jourabchi, DDS, of Pacific Dental Services (PDS) Foundation Dentists For Special Needs, specializes in treating patients with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD). Due to the lack of dentists who specialize in this field, oral health care remains one of the most common unmet health needs for individuals with IDD. Dr. Jourabchi provides the appropriate accommodations for his patients, including desensitization, to combat challenges with physical disabilities as well as sensitivity to sensory stimuli like speech, sound and light. The dental experience begins in the reception area where patients are introduced to a sensory room with tiles, fish tanks with bubbles and galaxy lights that match sensory stimuli preferences. This personalized level of attention extends through the entire visit to ensure patients feel comfortable and safe. Patients who were once unable to complete a dental appointment without sedation are now capable of achieving each step of an appointment without incident. Since 2019, Dr. Jourabchi has treated more than 1,200 patients from across the U.S. and was one of the only dentists to deliver care for patients with IDD during the pandemic. Dr. Jourabchi is supporting Special Olympics of Arizona and PDS Foundation with his award donation.
Jim Mangia, MPH, president and CEO of St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, quickly mobilized to protect community health in South, East and Central Los Angeles with testing and contact tracing programs, telehealth for triage and consultations, services for the homeless, monoclonal antibody infusion treatments and a vaccine equity program that inoculated more than 266,750 at-risk residents – all while running one of the largest nonprofit health centers in the most under-resourced areas of Los Angeles County, caring for more than 100,000 patients annually. During the past 20 years, under Mangia’s leadership, St. John’s has grown to 20 sites, including three state-of-the-art mobile clinics, and six school-based health centers, one of which was the first to fully integrate dental services. Mangia selected Esperanza Community Housing Corporation as the recipient of his award donation.
The St. Elizabeth Physicians Pharmacy and Operations team was on the frontlines of the pandemic, playing a major role in COVID-19 vaccinations for educators in northern Kentucky. The team vaccinated nearly 4,000 teachers and school staff within a three-week window, an effort led by Director of Value Based Performance Erica Neff and Director of Operations Jackie Houze. By effectively and efficiently vaccinating the teachers of this region, St. Elizabeth Physicians helped children return to normalcy. Neff and Houze are directing their award funds to the St. Elizabeth Foundation.
Jeremy Simms Alexander, DDS, introduced the concept of mobile dentistry to his native home of Shreveport, Louisiana, as a way to expand access to sustained oral health care across all ZIP codes, particularly those in under-resourced communities. Since its inception in 2015, Miles for Smiles Mobile Dental Care has brought oral health education and preventive care to 80 Louisiana public schools. As the only dentist in the state fully committed to operating mobile dentistry, Dr. Alexander was able to continue services for these students—bringing his mobile clinic to school sites in three different parishes across northern Louisiana, offering cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants, X-rays and exams. For many, Dr. Alexander is the first dentist, and first Black dentist, they have ever encountered and serves as a teacher of oral health and advocate for diversity in the community. He is supporting Holistic Youth Programs for Empowerment, Inc. with his award.
Charles Madden, DDS, Dental Director of the Good Samaritan Free Health Center, has recruited dozens of volunteer dentists, hygienists and dental assistants during the past 10 years to serve the oral health needs of financially challenged Cincinnatians. The Good Samaritan Free Health Center is a medical, dental, optometric and behavioral health home which seeks to enroll every patient into Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans Affairs services or any other program they might qualify for prior to providing treatment. While COVID-19 shut down dental operations, Dr. Madden and his volunteer staff were still able to provide more than $200,000 in free dental care in 2020. Dr. Madden has transitioned to a part-time COVID-19 vaccine administrator and enabled the Good Samaritan Free Health Center to become a vaccination site for the surrounding at-risk community. Dr. Madden is supporting the Good Samaritan Free Health Center with his award.
Amarilis Jacobo, DDS serves many roles, including neighborhood dentist, former president of the National Hispanic Dental Society, and leader in the Bronx County Dental Society and the New York State Dental Association. She was a natural addition to Gov. Cuomo’s New York Forward Reopening Advisory Board, where she provided knowledge and expertise on the return of preventive and routine care at dental offices limited to emergency care during the pandemic. Dr. Jacobo has been active in grassroots campaigns to promote oral care and prevention, including spending weekends to champion COVID-19 vaccinations in her neighborhood. In recognition of her community contributions, Bronx High School awards a health careers scholarship in Dr. Jacobo’s name. Dr. Jacobo is directing her award donation to the New York State Dental Foundation.
Marsha Wilkes Beatty, BS, MPH, is a champion for oral health improvement in Oklahoma and across the U.S. As Assistant Professor of Research, Director of the Senior Externship Program at The University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry and Chair of the Oklahoma Oral Health Coalition (OOHC), Beatty helped Oklahoma adapt and refine a grading system that evaluates the oral health care performance of each state. Because Oklahoma lacks access to adequate dental care for so many of its citizens, the state scored poorly, receiving a “D.” As thousands more Oklahoma adults become eligible to receive dental benefits through Medicaid expansion, Beatty is providing leadership for coalition partners and stakeholders to create the state’s first strategic oral health plan since 2009. At the college, she reinforces the importance of rural dentistry and has developed a program which gives seniors an enhanced opportunity to experience dentistry in rural and metropolitan communities where access remains a particular challenge. Beatty is spreading her award funds among multiple nonprofits, including Neighborhood Services Organization, Good Shepherd Ministries, Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma, Oklahoma Dental Foundation, Inc., and the OOHC.
In addition to highlighting this year’s Health Equity Heroes, DentaQuest will be celebrating all champions of health equity as part of Health Equity Hero Day and encourages partners and individuals across the country to join in on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn using the hashtag #HealthEquityHeroDay.
DentaQuest is a purpose-driven oral health care company dedicated to improving the oral health of all. We do this through Preventistry® – our all-in approach to better care, expanded access, value-based financing, and innovative solutions. We manage dental and vision benefits for 30+ million Americans and direct patient care through our network of more than 75 oral health centers in 6 states. We provide outcomes-based, cost-effective dental solutions for Medicaid and CHIP, Medicare Advantage, small and large businesses, and individuals nationwide. And, we've invested more than $230 million in grants, programs and other corporate citizenship efforts to achieve measurably healthier communities across the country. By advancing prevention-focused oral health, we will achieve better overall health for everyone. Learn more at www.DentaQuest.com and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.