Submitted by Arcora Foundation.
Safety net and tribal dental clinics received much needed support today.
Arcora Foundation, funded by not-for-profit Delta Dental of Washington (DDWA), announced grants totaling $4 million to safety net and tribal dental clinics throughout Washington to help prevent the loss of essential oral health care for tens of thousands of vulnerable people due to impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.
Included among the grant recipients are the Lindquist Dental Clinic for Children in Tacoma and Community Health Care with dental clinics in Tacoma, Lakewood and Spanaway. Arcora Foundation announced a grant of $140,000 for Lindquist Dental Clinic for Children and $189,000 for Community Health Care.
Community health centers (CHCs), tribal and Urban Indian dental programs and non-profit dental centers are at the front line of health care services for many at-risk individuals and families in the state, providing free, sliding fee and Medicaid reimbursed dental care to meet immediate and long-term oral health needs. CHCs alone serve 30% of the state’s Medicaid-enrolled children and 54% of Medicaid-enrolled adults who receive dental services. These clinics deliver more than 1 million dental visits annually.
About half of CHCs are in rural areas and are often the only dental care available in the region. Many tribal and non-profit dental clinics are in underserved areas. Lower-income people in Washington experience significant health disparities and the disparities are even more significant among Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Oral health disparities were a key consideration and priority for grant funding decisions.
“Oral health is essential to overall health, and these clinics are the safety net many communities need to have access to care,” said Arcora Foundation President and CEO Vanetta Abdellatif. “The pandemic has already reduced access, which can have far-reaching consequences on people’s health, the workforce and the economy. We are committed to minimizing these negative impacts by helping the safety net clinics during this difficult time. They are essential for health equity.”
In March, dental providers were required to suspend all non-emergent care due to COVID-19; many were already limiting services to conserve supplies of protective personal equipment and to decrease the potential of viral exposure to patients and staff. CHCs, tribal and non-profit clinics saw a reduction in dental care services by 90% in recent months. The revenue loss forced many clinics to cut staff and other expenses, and some depleted financial reserves. Though dental clinics were able to start seeing patients for non-emergent care in mid-May after a two-month shutdown, the economic losses are expected to continue due in large part to infection-control and social distancing guidelines, the need to rehire staff and other issues that affect a clinics’ ability to ramp up and serve increasing numbers of patients.
In addition, the need for these clinics is expected to increase. Washington’s Health Care Authority, which administers the state’s Apple Health (Medicaid) program, projects an increase in Medicaid enrollees and newly uninsured patients in the next six months, placing additional demands on burdened safety net clinics.
A recent economic analysis estimated that CHCs in this state could lose up to $473 million across medical, dental and behavioral health services without federal relief or operational adjustments. That means as many as 16 CHCs could exhaust their operating reserves and have to shut down multiple sites. As a result, more than 600,000 vulnerable patients could lose their primary care provider.
“We felt this was an important time to augment our annual contribution to Arcora Foundation,” said Delta Dental of Washington Chief Mission Officer Diane Oakes. “Arcora is supporting clinics that provide vital oral health services for people across Washington. These clinics must be sustained especially as the need for health services continues to grow.”
Arcora Foundation has assisted safety net clinics in reducing disparities in care due to systemic racism and work toward a vision that all people can enjoy good oral health and overall health, with no one left behind. Since 2001, Arcora has invested more than $17 million in safety net clinics to expand access to dental care for the most vulnerable in this state. Arcora also sponsors a learning network so Dental Directors can share best practices and learn from each other.
The CHC’S and non-profit dental clinics receiving funding from Arcora Foundation include:
- Community Health of Central Washington
- Community Health Center of Snohomish County
- Community Health Care Tacoma
- Country Doctor
- Free Clinic of Southwest Washington
- Grace Clinic
- International Community Health Services
- Lahai Health
- Lindquist Dental Clinic for Children
- Neighborcare Health
- North Olympic Healthcare Network
- Northeast Washington Health
- Peninsula Community Health Services
- Upper Valley MEND
- Valley View Health Center
- Yakima Neighborhood Health Services
“We are thankful for the continued support that Arcora Foundation continues to provide to safety net clinics across Washington. This funding will improve our ability to serve as many patients as we can accommodate safely as quickly as possible,” said Bob Marsalli, Chief Executive Officer, Washington Association for Community Health. “Many patients who need care have been unable to get it for several months, so there is a pent-up demand. There will be even more people who have lost their insurance or are on Medicaid and need care.”
Tribal clinics also will receive a portion of the funding. Specific grants to tribal clinics will be finalized in the next few weeks. Since the onset of the pandemic, Arcora Foundation and DDWA have contributed more than $350,000 to nonprofits across the state help address immediate needs such as food security. DDWA is also contributing $40 million in grants and advance payments to DDWA member dentists across the state to offset losses, help retain staff and acquire needed equipment, as well as $33 million in premium assistance to customers.