A colloquium hosted in April by Dean Bertolami brought together major stakeholders in dental education, organized dentistry, and the corporate sector, along with selected NYU officials, to address the following issue: In a difficult economic climate, how can we build sustainable access to dental care for those in need?
Dr. John Howe, III, Executive Director of Project HOPE, described his organization's method of enlisting medical volunteers to address access-to-care issues in many parts of the world, emphasizing that people want to volunteer and that their actions broaden the scope of what is possible.
Dr. Stuart Hirsch, Associate Dean for International Programs & Development at NYUCD, presented a video of the College's outreach activity in Hudson, New York, the goal of which was to provide sustainable oral health care to children in nine Head Start Programs in Hudson. To view the video, go to:
Spurred by these presentations, participants put forth ideas focused on developing a model to increase access to oral health care by recruiting practicing dentists as volunteers to join NYUCD's existing outreach infrastructure, thereby helping to expand the amount of care that can be provided during outreach missions to medically underserved areas both in the United States and abroad.
The plan is to use the NYU College of Dentistry as an institutional base to manage the logistics and site arrangements so that volunteer dentists will need to do little more than show up and practice dentistry along with our faculty and students. The plan would seek collaboration with organized dentistry and would eventually expand to include other schools of dentistry as well. While the medical world has an institutional base centered on the hospital, dentistry has little institutional infrastructure apart from dental schools. In light of this, it seems that schools can do more to work with the corporate sector and with organized dentistry to create an institutional infrastructure for dentists who want to participate in volunteer outreach activities.
The consensus of the participants was that this project is realistic, as it supports the mandate of New York University to be a "private institution in the public service"; it is actionable, as we have a tested protocol in place for delivering outreach and a large alumni population from which to recruit volunteers; and it is practical, because once start-up funds are in place, the model can be made financially viable by having a portion of the services covered by Medicaid funds. It is also a potentially replicable model, since NYUCD intends to share the information gained, starting one year after its inception, with the larger dental community through presentations and publications.
THE PATH FORWARD
Dr. Hirsch is overseeing the program, which will begin with invitations to 10 practicing dentists to take part in a two-week Hudson outreach project in fall 2009 to treat both adults and children. He will subsequently incorporate the volunteers into the three-month follow-up maintenance visits designed to sustain the health of 1,000 school children offered care in Hudson. Data from the outreach will be collected and analyzed to document changes in the children's oral health status, and the volunteers will be interviewed about their experiences.