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Delta Dental Community Care Foundation: Looking back and ahead to meaningful impact

By Kenzie Ferguson, Vice President of Foundation and Corporate Social Responsibility for Delta Dental of California

As I look back on the year 2022, I am filled with pride for the successes of the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation and the meaningful impact we have had on the communities we serve. From expanding dental care access to providing financial assistance to those in need, our work has made a profound difference. With this Q&A, I'm delighted to provide a recap of our activities and a glimpse into our plans for the coming year.

What are some of the success stories you would like to highlight from 2022?

There are many, of course, but the launch of our senior oral health program last April is undoubtedly at the top of my list. Findings in the December 2021 National Institutes of Health report about oral care affirm the poor current state of dental health in America. However, what I found most alarming was that the report cited senior adults, especially those of color and who are socioeconomically challenged, as the most critically underserved and vulnerable population for oral health care.

As the senior oral health program takes shape, I am pleased to see the progress of our first two coalition partners – Howard University College of Dentistry and Mary’s Center. In 2023, we look forward to sharing more insight about the program and its profound impact on improving senior adults' oral health and wellness in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

We announced our largest-ever gift of $1.67 million to the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Community-Based Clinical Education Program to establish the UCLA Dentistry MINDFUL Project. The groundbreaking initiative provides much-needed comprehensive mobile oral health care to seniors and special needs populations throughout Southern California.

The Community Care Foundation also supplied technology, including X-ray machines, to United Health Care Centers in the California San Joaquin Valley. This equipment enables more people from the community to have access to dental health care and other services.

Rounding out last year’s highlights, funding from the Community Care Foundation provided Emory University with new biomedical feedback technology to monitor, diagnose and treat senior adults and expectant mothers who face oral health disparities.

I also want to briefly mention our ongoing partnership with the American Red Cross and membership in their annual disaster-giving program. Through our relationship, the efforts of the Red Cross enable us to realize our collective mission to build more resilient and caring communities and ensure that those impacted can receive aid when disasters strike.

Can you tell us about the goals of the Community Care Foundation for the coming year?

As I mentioned, last spring, we announced the launch of an important multi-year program to invest in community-based coalitions to address the senior oral health care crisis in the U.S. The goals of the program focus on understanding, assessing, and addressing the socioeconomic and systemic causes of poor oral health among seniors, creating a replicable model for community-driven oral health solutions, and improving their quality of life by reducing oral care disparities. We will be expanding our efforts in early 2023 by launching a Senior Oral Health Program coalition in California.

We will also be more intentional about developing our relationships with existing partners and the people behind all the great work they do in their communities. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on in-person visits for the past couple of years. Still, this past summer, we ventured out and traveled to Washington, D.C. and various cities in California and other states to renew those relationships. Those visits, and the many we are planning in 2023, enable us to gain a deeper understanding of our nonprofit partner organizations, their goals, and how we can foster long-term partnerships to transform equity and access to oral health care.

What are the areas of focus for Community Care Foundation funding in 2023?

Next year, we will primarily focus on addressing the oral health crisis among older adults in the U.S., fostering greater health equity and increasing oral health access in rural communities. Part of our efforts around health equity will include expanding diversity and inclusion in the dental profession – not only dentists but dental hygienists and dental assistants too.

How do these funding areas align with Delta Dental’s overall mission and values?

We believe health care is a right. Delta Dental is a purpose-driven organization committed to increasing access to oral health care and delivering patient-centric quality care. The Community Care Foundation finds areas in which we can have the most impact and those that reflect our organizational value of Service.

What is the process for deciding which organizations and programs receive funding?

Our grant application is by invitation and we look for organizations that align with our goals – particularly those who are innovative, mission-focused, outstanding in delivering access to quality health care, and committed to building more resilient communities. We are proud to currently support more than 300 nonprofit partners and community health clinics across our 15 states and the District of Columbia.