With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to have a major impact in many areas of the state, especially in communities of color, Arcora Foundation has provided $1,085,000 in grants to 17 Washington tribes to help their dental clinics meet essential oral health needs.
Lower-income people in Washington experience significant health disparities, and the disparities are even more substantial among black, indigenous and other people of color. Many of the tribes receiving grants are in rural areas and may be the only place to get care and operate in challenging financial circumstances with small margins and large percentages of low-income and indigent patients. Despite these difficulties, tribes lead the way in developing and implementing innovative, culturally appropriate models of delivering health care, including dental care.
Arcora Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving oral health and advancing health equity all across the state, is funded by not-for-profit Delta Dental of Washington (DDWA), the state’s largest dental benefits provider. Together they work toward a shared vision that all people enjoy good oral and overall health, with no one left behind.
“We can’t stress it enough – oral health is essential to overall health, and that remains true during this pandemic,” said Arcora Foundation President and CEO Vanetta Abdellatif. “Gum disease is linked to heart disease, diabetes complications and respiratory illnesses, which are major risk factors for COVID-19. Oral disease also is linked to stroke and pregnancy complications. Making sure people have access to oral health care is an equity issue and remains critically important.”
Tribes, including their dental programs were hit especially hard by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with stay-at-home orders and other requirements first limiting patient visits. Then came a two-month period when dental providers were required to suspend all non-emergent care due to COVID-19. Loss of revenue forced clinics to reduce expenses, lay off employees and expend financial reserves. Yet, many continued to provide emergent care.
Dental programs were permitted to reopen in June but under significant restrictions to protect the health of both staff and patients. The need for social distancing, challenges with rehiring staff and other issues have limited the number of patient visits, while the costs of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other equipment and materials to ensure safety have imposed additional unforeseen costs.
Most tribes received about $70,000 from Arcora Foundation. The funds will be used to purchase additional PPE and other safety equipment, make capital improvements to protect staff and patients, train staff, and to buy teledentistry equipment and additional minimally invasive dentistry supplies.
“The grant money will enable clinics to focus as much of their resources as possible specifically on patient care,” said Joe Finkbonner, a member of the Arcora Board of Trustees and the Lummi Tribe. “That’s important, because with the long closure and continuing limitation on the number of patients that can be seen at any one time, there will continue to be a significant backlog of people who need to get in for dental care. It is an honor to support tribes in continuing to improve the oral health of American Indian/Alaska Native people.”
Ticey Mason, director of the Northwest Tribal Dental Support Center and Siletz tribal member said: “During this pandemic, we have all learned to smile with our eyes, but let’s not forget about the smile under that mask. We are grateful for Arcora Foundation’s support to help us implement the innovations and changes our dental programs need to insure American Indian/Alaska Native people have good oral and overall health. We are strong and resilient people, and perseverance is in our DNA. We have survived pandemics in the past, and we will survive this one too.”
The Tribes and clinics receiving funds are:
- Jamestown S’Klallam – Jamestown Family Dental Clinic, Sequim
- Kalispel – Camas Center Dental Clinic, Cusick
- Lummi – Lummi Tribal Health Clinic, Bellingham
- Makah – Sophie Trettevick Indian Health Center, Neah Bay
- Puyallup – Puyallup Tribal Health Authority, Tacoma
- Swinomish – Swinomish Dental Clinic, LaConner
- Tulalip – Karen I Fryberg Clinic, Tulalip
- Lower Elwah S’Klallam – Lower Elwha Dental Clinic, Port Angeles
- Muckleshoot – Muckleshoot Dental Clinic, Auburn
- Chehalis – CTWC Clinic, Oakville
- Squaxin Island – Squaxin Island Dental Clinic, Shelton
- Nooksack – Nooksack Tribal Dental Clinic, Deming
- Quinault – Quinault Indian Nation Roger Saux Health Center, Taholah
- Port Gamble – Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Dental Clinic, Kingston
- Nisqually – Nisqually Tribe Dental Clinic, Olympia
- Colville – Lake Roosevelt Community Health Center, Inchelium
- Shoalwater Bay – Shoalwater Bay Dental Clinic, Tokeland
In addition to the latest grants to tribes, Arcora Foundation and Delta Dental of Washington have responded to the pandemic with other efforts including:
- $3 million in grants to community health centers, and non-profit dental centers that serve as a safety net for at-risk individuals and families.
- More than $350,000 for community foundations, hunger relief organizations and local nonprofits providing food and essential services to families, seniors and vulnerable populations.
- $23 million to DDWA member dentists across the state to offset losses, help retain staff, and acquire needed equipment.
- Expanding the free DentistLink dental referral service to meet the increased demand of people needing urgent dental care.