Unit 1: Essential Elements
Compared with the innocence and exuberance of neighborhood kids that enables them to find an abandoned barn, gather, assess their individual and collective talents, and offer a polished performance for family and friends within 3 days’ time, effectively and efficiently addressing the oral health needs of the underserved in your community may not be as simple an endeavor. The time it takes to gather pertinent facts; tell your story; engage partners; and secure committed funders to create a plan of action that encompasses continuity of care, sustainability, and acceptability by those in need, is time well spent.
This introductory unit is grounded in the joys and frustrations of many enthusiastic individuals, not unlike yourself, who sought to make a significant, lasting difference in the oral health of others. Their experience of overcoming obstacles, finding unexpected partnerships, and embracing perseverance is the foundation behind the wisdom and practicality presented in this manual.
Once one recognizes that access to oral health care is a real problem for uninsured and underinsured individuals and families within the community, the dream of addressing that concern is born. When people are in pain, time is of the essence; yet taking the time to document the need and determine available resources can make the difference between success and failure. Is establishing a new dental clinic the answer, or will helping patients navigate the pathways to existing clinical resources suffice? Depending upon the circumstances, either response could be appropriate in light of existing human and fiscal resources. Recognizing that good oral health is integral to maintaining good overall health opens the door to better understanding of the importance of accessing regular oral health care and promoting community-based prevention strategies, as well as increasing potential partners within the medical community.
Making such a dream reality will require unlimited energy, hard work, and a thick skin. Much of the territory may be unfamiliar. Although internal passion is essential, it is best tempered by external reality checks to determine whether you are creating a sustainable solution appropriate for the needs of the community. Should you accept the challenge? One person may be all that's needed to get started. Are you that catalyst?
Though you may get the ball rolling, chances of success are greatly increased by partnering with others who share your passion and can bring additional resources to the table. In such an endeavor, there truly is strength in numbers. In order to enlist the help of others, you must be able to make a believable, defensible case of need and desired action. Anecdotal information may get someone’s attention, but sharing pertinent data and memorable photos will keep it. Once you have gathered a team of diverse oral health stakeholders, you will be able to refine and hone that data even more, attract funders, and make a sustainable difference in your community.
Featured Case Study
How Passion and Collaboration Make a Dream Reality
While working for the Scioto County Board of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities, I heard numerous stories about how difficult it was for our clients to obtain oral health care. I became frustrated trying to deal with the barriers families faced and decided to seek other solutions. At the same time, a group called Scioto County’s One Stop for the Common Good had formed to confront the barriers that individuals with low incomes were experiencing while trying to find jobs. The group was in the process of establishing a clothes closet and a discussion group called Be a Voice for the purpose of exchanging information about resources and addressing frustrations. A number of the clients believed they couldn’t get jobs because they were embarrassed by their clothing and by the condition of their teeth or lack thereof. One of the county commissioners recommended creation of a subcommittee to begin to address many of the issues surfacing. I asked if I could participate because of the oral health concerns that many of our families had expressed.
This subcommittee envisioned a community dental clinic to serve those with low incomes and special health care needs. I co-chaired this committee along with a dentist, who served as a consultant for my organization. The committee met regularly, always keeping our vision and goals in front of us, not letting the group get bogged down in negative discussion about the many reasons that could frustrate our endeavors. Once a month, we met with the overall committee to report progress and to seek support and guidance as needed. This process continued for 2 years until we had a well-thought-out plan and sufficient community support.
Then a miracle happened! Anthem, a health conversion foundation, released a request for proposals. (Health conversion foundations, also called “health legacy foundations,” are formed when a nonprofit hospital, health care system, or health plan is either acquired by a for-profit firm or converted to for-profit status.) We submitted a strong application to fund our dream! We subsequently received a $250,000 2-year grant from the Anthem Foundation, along with a $300,000 3-year grant from the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council to begin our dental clinic.
Two years later, we had a wonderful clinic, which is actually housed in the building where I work. The Carousel Center is an early childhood center that houses a variety of agencies that work with families who have young children. It is such an honor to have the dental clinic here, and it continues to expand its capacity! I walk by the waiting room every day with a smile, seeing people get oral health services that at one time were not available. The clinic handles over 425 patient visits per month. The subcommittee now functions as the clinic’s advisory committee.
Our agency never could have accomplished this dream by ourselves. It took the combined efforts of many people whom we never would have thought to ask to be partners. Keeping our shared vision in front of us at all times and creating a cohesive plan were the keys to our success.
Brenda Bensen, B.S., M.S.
Director, Carousel Center