The Virginia Oral Health Coalition strives to ensure all Virginians have access to affordable, comprehensive health care that includes oral health.
After an accident forced her to leave a job that provided dental insurance, Martha* had few financial resources and no benefits. When two of her teeth broke off, her Medicaid coverage would not pay for the repair. She wasn’t sure where to turn for help.
Stories like Martha’s are all too common. Unemployed, low-income, ill and disabled individuals, and children struggle not only with broken teeth and cavities, but gum disease and other dental-related conditions. Oral health is inextricably linked to overall health, and untreated dental diseases are associated with systemic and costly health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and premature birth. Though dental disease is mostly preventable, it remains the most common chronic disease among Virginia’s children. Early and consistent access to oral health services improves overall health outcomes and significantly reduces health care costs, yet oral health care access is unavailable or out of reach for hundreds of thousands of Virginia’s residents.
For too long, oral health has hovered outside the realm of what is considered crucial for an individual’s overall health. We endeavor to change that perception so that assessing an individual’s oral health is as common as checking their temperature or blood pressure. Your support for these efforts is critical to ensure that Virginians have access to the oral health care services they need to achieve optimal overall health.
*Name has been changed to protect patient confidentiality.
Despite the achievements and gains we have made as a society in medical science and technology, oral health often remains an ancillary part of overall health care. Hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia are unable to make oral health care part of their routine health care, contributing to a vicious cycle of lack of access and poverty: a person is denied employment due to missing teeth, but cannot afford dental care, and thus the cycle continues.
The Virginia Oral Health Coalition exists to eliminate this lack of access in the state of Virginia. While stopgap and provisional treatment can be available on a limited basis, the Coalition works to achieve change at the policy level, and to push for the integration of oral health care services into all aspects of health care - ultimately so that provisional measures are no longer necessary.
As is common for advocacy organizations working behind the scenes to affect change, funding is a challenge. However, because of our ever-increasing network of partnerships with diverse stakeholders, including those in the medical, dental, private, government and community health sectors, the Coalition has the unique ability to sift through competing priorities and agendas and steer the conversation toward the underlying causes of access issues and oral health as a stand-alone issue. With the goals of addressing the lack of access to oral health services, and to better equip the medical community to integrate oral health into their work as another avenue to access, the Coalition plays a crucial role in changing the mentality that oral health is a separate part of a person’s overall health.
Beyond financial sustainability, it is important to find the right people with the right skills and passion to help us grow as an organization and stay true to our mission. Rather than continuously tailoring the mission to secure funding for the plethora of other needs that exist, we strive to stay focused on bringing parity between oral health and general health in both conventional and often non-traditional ways, with both conventional and non-traditional partners. Please take a moment to visit our website to learn more.
I hope you will join us today as a fellow champion in the pursuit to eliminate oral health access as a barrier to Virginians leading healthy, productive lives.
Sarah Bedard Holland is the executive director of the Virginia Oral Health Coalition (VaOHC). VaOHC was formed to transform the way Virginia thinks and manages oral health care by implementing 19 initiatives which seek to change policies, create programs and shift the paradigm so that everyone in Virginia understands the importance of, and has access to, oral health services.
Prior to her work with VaOHC, Holland was with the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF), the largest funder of dental safety net providers in Virginia. During her time with the VHCF, Holland expanded access to oral health care for underserved and uninsured Virginians by strengthening the operations of existing dental safety net providers and stimulating the creation of new providers throughout the Commonwealth. Among many successes, she negotiated costs savings for the dental safety net valued at over half a million dollars.
Her background includes directing public policy and communications efforts for the American Cancer Society where she successfully lobbied for patient rights and tobacco control, and for the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center where she shaped and executed the communications strategy for the Phoenix Campus of University of Arizona’s School of Medicine.
In addition to her current position at VaOHC, Holland serves as an adjunct professor for the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry and is a member of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Executive Healthcare Committee, and the Dental Advisory Committee, which oversees the Virginia Medicaid dental program. Additionally, she was a member of the 2013 Class of LEAD Virginia. In 2017, Holland will participate in Richmond Memorial Health Foundation's Equity and Health Fellowship with 18 other fellows in the Greater Richmond area.
The Virginia Oral Health Coalition received funding from the DentaQuest Foundation to implement the program “Oral Health 2020–Virginia” (OH2020) to strengthen and empower the Commonwealth’s oral health network to support comprehensive health care that includes oral health and advocacy. In 2016, the Coalition facilitated the development of the Virginia Oral Health Report Card with an active statewide work group. Virginia earned a C+ for oral health on the Report Card, which measures Virginia's progress on nine key oral health indicators with the highest return on investment. In 2017, the Coalition will lead stakeholders in each region to analyze local data based on the report card indicators and design community-led quality improvement programs that address the unique health needs of their locality. To ensure the program's success, the Coalition will: convene key partners, such as safety net health providers, health systems and payers, minority populations traditionally underrepresented in the network, and private practice providers; provide technical assistance; ensure health equity is recognized; and, assist with earned media attention.
Long-term success means that communities are facilitating comprehensive health care, supported by comprehensive dental benefits for all adults enrolled in Virginia Medicaid. OH2020 supports this vision by expanding the number of oral health advocates, engaged providers and regional leaders, and by ensuring that emerging patient centered care and financing models in Virginia include oral health. An expanded oral health network will also have the ability to bring expertise, connections, ideas and energy that will enable programs and policies that integrate oral health into ever-changing health care systems and ultimately ensure all Virginians have access to oral health services, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Ultimately, the collective strength of the network, coupled with integrated medical-oral health care models, will reduce health disparities and lay a foundation for policy change that will provide all adults enrolled in Medicaid with comprehensive dental benefits.
Short term success within this program means that the clinics who receive technical assistance and education have been able to implement one or more new or enhanced techniques to advance patient-centered care and provider more comprehensive health services. In some instances, enhancing the clinic’s services may only mean educating staff about oral health and its relationship to various conditions. In other instances, clinics may implement a robust integration program to target a specific patient population.
Long term success will be safety net clinics who are integrating oral health services, education and referrals at a desired level and ability. Ultimately, this will ensure their patients are receiving comprehensive health care and the care environment is more patient-centered.
Short term success results in a group of committed oral health advocates who can provide expertise and feedback on policy recommendations and programmatic activities, and serve as expert advisors for educational and advocacy opportunities.
Long term success results in sustainable, stakeholder-led workgroups who are advancing oral health policy, education and training opportunities.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
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