10:02 AM

Strengthening the Oral Health Safety Net

By Ralph Fuccillo, President, DentaQuest Foundation

When healthcare reform goes into effect in 2014, nearly every child in the United States will have access to dental benefits coverage, through Medicaid expansion and state exchanges, many for the first time. That is an impressive goal.

But it made us wonder how will the existing oral health care delivery system handle this dramatic volume of new individuals seeking care?

One likely source for care will be America’s health safety net of community health centers. Today, 1,250 Community Health Centers in more than 8,000 communities in 50 states and all U.S. territories provide primary health care services to 23 million individuals, most with limited financial resources. Today, not all CHCs have the capacity to provide dental care. In fact, 12 million+ community health center patients do not have access to dental care services.

Our response to this challenge is the Strengthening the Oral Health Safety Net Initiative, a $1.75 million investment to strengthen oral health delivery at community health centers across America. This Initiative is providing oral health leadership development and technical assistance to community health centers at the national, state and local levels in three ways:

1) Through a targeted investment, we are partnering with the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) to build oral health leadership throughout America’s network of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). NACHC supports its member Primary Care Associations (PCA) and their community health centers with research-based advocacy, training for health center and PCA leadership and boards, and partnerships with key stakeholders to foster the delivery of primary health care services to communities in need. NACHC will now include oral health as part of its education and advocacy work.

2) Through a very competitive Request for Proposal process, the DentaQuest Foundation invested in five state PCAs for the Strengthening the Oral Health Safety Net Initiative. Each PCA will receive funding for oral health technical assistance and leadership development to support the expansion of oral health at their member community health centers. PCAs are the state-based trade associations of health safety net organizations. They are an important partner because they provide training and continuing education, advocacy, and many other services for their member health centers.

3) Finally, up to 5 community health centers in each participating state PCA will receive direct practice improvement technical assistance to either start a new oral health program or strengthen an existing program, provided (in-kind) by the DentaQuest Institute and its Safety Net Solutions team.

We are very pleased to be working with these five PCAs in the Strengthening the Oral Health Safety Net Initiative.

Their work will become a model for PCAs in other states.