Access to Dental Care Program Award: HealthPath Foundation of Ohio

Theresa Wukusick

Theresa Wukusick, executive director of the HealthPath Foundation. The HealthPath Foundation is this year’s ODA Access to Dental Care Program Award winner.

The HealthPath Foundation will receive the Ohio Dental Association Access to Dental Care Program Award at the Callahan Celebration of Excellence on Friday, Sept. 18, in conjunction with the ODA Annual Session in Columbus.

“The HealthPath Foundation of Ohio has the synergy, commitment and means to help provide and enable access to dental care for thousands of Ohioans, young, old and in-between, annually – and a track record that indicates they do just that,” said ODA Immediate Past President Dr. Paul Casamassimo.

The HealthPath Foundation of Ohio is a grant making organization aimed at helping Ohioans achieve their fullest health potential regardless of status, wealth or circumstances.

The Foundation is a supporting organization of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and has awarded more than $15 million in grants since 1999. It serves a 36 county service area and focuses on three main issues – access to health care, prevention of family violence and preventive oral health.

“As oral health is often a neglected health issue and dental care is still the number one unmet health care need for Ohio children and adults, HealthPath is strongly committed to improving the oral and overall health of Ohio’s children and adults in need, and emphasizes preventive oral health as a key measure to ensure good oral health,” said ODA President Dr. Tom Paumier.

From 2006 to 2012, the HealthPath Foundation awarded $2,560,395 in grants collectively to 27 oral health programs in Ohio.

“For more than a decade, The HealthPath Foundation of Ohio (HPF-Ohio) has invested in multiple strategies for improving oral health and removing barriers to dental care for low-income and other vulnerable Ohioans, especially children,” said Theresa Wukusick, executive director of the HealthPath Foundation.

One of the main ways the Foundation works to improve access to dental care is by working to expand the number of safety net dental clinics.

“The dental safety net projects that HealthPath has funded over the years have helped thousands of children and others improve their oral health,” Wukusick said. “This help has made a significant impact in the day-to-day lives of many of those served.”

One example of an initiative the HPF-Ohio has provided funding for is the Manchester School-based Health Center Dental Project. Through the program, Adams County Medical Foundation partnered with a dentist to provide dental appointments for Manchester schools students who the school nurse identified as having at least two cavities.

So far, more than 50 children have received dental care, most of whom had more extensive problems than just cavities.

“One of the recent patients, a 5-year-old boy, had to have 12 of his 15 baby teeth pulled. After the teeth were pulled, he felt so much better,” Wukusick said. “The teachers reported that he ate five plates of pancakes the next morning at the school breakfast.”

Another way the Foundation aids safety net dental clinics is by providing grants to create dental residency programs in the clinics.

“HealthPath continues to support the expansion of the Lutheran Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency Program at community-based sites across Ohio,” Wukusick said. “Several new sites came on board this year, including the Dental Center of NW Ohio in Toledo; Primary Health Solutions in Butler County; and Family Health Services in Darke County. We are especially excited to have our first OSU College of Dentistry grad participating in the residency program. These residents are not only receiving a quality educational experience, but also greatly enhancing access to dental care in underserved communities.”

In addition to working to expand the number of safety net dental clinics, the Foundation also works to advocate for system change. In 2010, the Foundation led the funding to create the Children’s Oral Health Action Team (COHAT), which now includes more than 30 organizations interested in improving children’s oral health. The Ohio Dental Association is a member of COHAT and supports its policy agenda.

“The HealthPath Foundation has been a tremendous partner on oral health issues,” said ODA Executive Director David Owsiany.

“With over 30 partners around the table, this group has worked hard at building trust and a mutually beneficial policy agenda to move issues related to oral health forward at the state level,” Wukusick said. “COHAT members advocated, in partnership with the ODA, for an increase in Ohio Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental services on behalf of dental providers in the recent state budget deliberations. A Medicaid dental provider rate increase of 1 percent was included in the budget. Although this is significantly less than what is needed, it is a small move in the right direction.”

Wukusick said the HealthPath Board of Trustees recently decided to continue funding oral health initiatives through 2020.

“The Foundation conducted a comprehensive needs assessment as part of our strategic planning process, and found that there continues to be serious gaps in access to dental care, particularly in rural and Appalachian counties,” she said. “We will be focusing funding on improving children’s oral health, ages 0 through 12.”

The ODA’s Access to Dental Care Program Award honors an outstanding program that helps reduce the access to care problem in Ohio by offering free or reduced fee dental care to underserved populations.