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On the road again: Inspiring stories of partner engagement in a post-pandemic world

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

The relationships we cultivate with our partners extend far beyond the financial support we provide. From the outset of our collaboration and throughout our partnership, our primary goal is to understand their organizations' needs, work together to benefit the communities they serve and foster personal connections whenever possible.

These invaluable meetups enable us to get to know our partners, put names with faces and see firsthand the transformative work they do in their communities. While the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted our travels over the past couple years, we are moving from the online world to hit the road again and meet with some of our partners.

In this Q&A and the forthcoming series, we embark on a journey of reflection, shedding light on the extraordinary efforts of our nonprofit partners and their resiliency in weathering the storm of COVID-19. We invite you to reengage with the power of human connection and its profound impact on the communities we serve. Together, we can forge a brighter future and pave the way for lasting change.

Q1: Tell us about some recent partner visits that stand out to you.

While all of our partners do important work in their communities, a few recent visits have left an indelible impression on me. Let me share these remarkable experiences with you.

One of our long-standing partnerships is with North East Medical Services (NEMS) in San Francisco, which holds a special place in our hearts as they serve a community close to home. NEMS has been dedicated to supporting AAPI communities in San Francisco's vibrant Chinatown since our collaboration began in 2012. What truly excites me is their innovative approach of in-office crown and prosthetic milling, enabling patients to potentially receive their crowns within a single day. Witnessing this blend of tradition and innovation is akin to reconnecting with an old friend, discovering new horizons together.

Another standout partner visit was to Whitman-Walker in Washington, D.C., an esteemed Federally Qualified Health Center with a strong focus on LGBTQIA health. These partners play a vital role in ensuring equitable access to quality and affordable care for all. What truly sets Whitman-Walker apart is their patient-centered approach, where privacy protection takes precedence. For instance, they allow visitor access to their facility exclusively during lunchtime, ensuring a safe and confidential environment for patients.

Unity Health Care, also based in Washington, D.C., is making great strides in improving overall health by bridging the gap between oral health and diabetes care. Thanks to a Community Care Foundation grant, they successfully trained their oral health staff in diabetes care, recognizing the profound link between the two. This innovative approach not only enhances oral health outcomes but also transforms the overall well-being of individuals.

Q2: What types of challenges did our partners face when serving their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and how did the Community Care Foundation support them?

During the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, our partners faced extraordinary challenges in serving their communities. In response, we swiftly adjusted our approach and unrestricted all of our grants so the funding could be used beyond access to oral health care, providing immediate financial support when it was most needed. Understanding the magnitude of the crisis, we processed multiple grant cycles, recognizing the essential role our partners played in the public health response to the pandemic. In fact, many of our partners pivoted and offered COVID-19 testing and triage treatment. I vividly recall visiting one partner who ingeniously set up a covered outdoor area, catering specifically to their immigrant community in the harsh Washington, D.C. winter.

Our commitment remained unwavering throughout the pandemic. We demonstrated our understanding, trust and investment in our partners, empowering them to be catalysts of change in their communities. As we transition from the immediate crisis, we now shift our focus to the delivery of oral health care and the vital task of ensuring people have access to quality health care.

Q3: Senior Oral Health, Access to Care and Future of Dentistry are three strategic pillars for the Community Care Foundation in 2023. Can you highlight a partner for each of these areas that is doing particularly noteworthy work?

When it comes to Senior Oral Health, the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center in San Diego emerges as a pioneer, addressing one of the most prevalent chronic health problems faced by seniors. Their whole-person, integrated model of care specifically targets low-income seniors, offering a state-of-the-art dental home within a senior wellness center committed to providing high-quality, affordable care. By prioritizing the well-being of this vulnerable population, they set the standard for enhancing senior oral health outcomes.

In terms of Access to CareUnited Health Centers stands out as a longstanding partner serving patients in California's San Joaquin Valley. Funding from the Community Care Foundation empowers their technological growth, enabling cutting-edge advancements like higher-resolution x-rays and Teledentistry. Through these innovations, United Health Centers efficiently provides quality care to an ever-increasing number of patients, underscoring their dedication to ensuring equitable access for all.

Shifting our focus to the Future of DentistryHACC (Harrisburg Area Community College) emerges as an influential force driving change. As the largest community college in Pennsylvania, HACC prioritizes equity, community development and addressing cyclical poverty. Through the Delta Dental Endowed Scholarships for Opportunity, they provide financial assistance to multiple students enrolled in their oral health care program. By nurturing the next generation of dental professionals, HACC paves the way for a more inclusive and equal society, tackling income inequality through stable, high-paying careers in dental hygiene.

Q4: What does the landscape look like this year and beyond in terms of the Community Care Foundation’s partner visits and interactions?

Looking toward the future, the Community Care Foundation continues to facilitate both virtual and in-person engagements with our partners, fostering discussions on ideas, concepts and approaches to better serve their communities. Our aim is to create a dynamic "network effect" where all partners actively engage and learn from one another. Through virtual platforms and face-to-face meetings, we cultivate spaces for insightful discussions that shape impactful initiatives. By facilitating open dialogue, we empower our partners to exchange knowledge, insights and best practices, unlocking new opportunities for growth and innovation.

Q5: What are some ways that Delta Dental employees can involve themselves in the efforts of our Community Care Foundation nonprofit partners?

I encourage Delta Dental employees to take advantage of our employee benefits, including 16 hours of volunteer time off every year to volunteer at a nonprofit of their choice and $1,000 in donation matching funds. By offering your skills, expertise, money and time, you can contribute directly to the causes that matter most to you, amplifying the positive impact we collectively make.

We are grateful to our partners for all the work they do to make our communities healthier and more resilient. Without them, we would not be able to realize the beneficial impact to the lives of so many in need throughout our country.