With glaring disparity by race and income among Connecticut’s citizens in terms of oral health, Connecticut Appleseed first adopted in 2004 a program to broaden the oral health delivery system to more disadvantaged children. In the intervening years, Board members Peter Libassi and Dr. Michael Perl, prompted the Connecticut State Dental Association (CSDA) and its members to undertake a series of pro bono initiatives which provided several thousand children and adults with free dental care. By impressing upon CSDA the importance of developing a pro bono culture and sparking CSDA’s resolve, Peter and Michael have vastly expanded the scope of volunteerism among dental professionals.
Connecticut Appleseed’s Broad Portfolio of Initiatives
Because Connecticut had not increased dental Medicaid reimbursement rates since 1993, our state had one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the nation as of 2006 -which discouraged dentists from participating in Medicaid and taking Medicaid patients. In response, Connecticut Appleseed collaborated in a 2-year advocacy effort that succeeded in 2007 to persuade both the state’s Appropriations Committee and budget negotiators to allocate $20 million to remedy shortcomings in the state’s Medicaid program.
This collaboration included a number of oral health advocacy organizations, including the Connecticut Oral Health Initiative, the Connecticut Health Foundation, CSDA and several dental professional associations. Over two legislative cycles, Appleseed Board members joined with their collaborators to send letters and make phonecalls to key legislators at critical points in the decision process.
As a result, in April 2008, the Legislature and Governor appropriated $20 million for increasing reimbursement fees paid to dentists for services provided to children under the HUSKY program. This funding influx was specifically targeted at motivating dentists to treat children.
By 2010 approximately 1,000 dentists were actively participating in the partnership, a gain of more than 700 dentists over two years. It is estimated that these dentists are providing dental care to more than 130,000 children, with a value of more than $60 million per year.
Connecticut Appleseed’s Access to Dental Care Committee has improved dental access through a series of imaginative approaches. For example, they helped to expand the supply of professionals willing to service disadvantaged children by revising the state’s strict licensing laws. Specifically, Priya Morganstern stepped up to provide pro bono legislative drafting services for the Connecticut Health Foundation (“CHF”), drafting revisions to the state’s Dental Practices Act that were approved in the 2005 legislative session. These changes allow foreign-trained dentists to be licensed in Connecticut if they agree to work in underserved areas for a period of 2 years.
Last but not least, Dr. Perl started collaborating in 2007 with former CSDA President Dr. Bob Schreibman to research and suggest the first “Connecticut Mission of Mercy” (CTMOM). While more Connecticut children have fortunately begun receiving more of the dental care they need, CTMOM and other pro-bono clinics (e.g., the continuing Community Health Services clinic in Hartford) have glaringly illustrated the serious need for adult dental health care. Held on April 11th & 12th 2008, the initial CTMOM was a resounding success.
With over 800 volunteers, and numerous sponsors, CTMOM delivered approximately $500,000 of oral health care and medications to over 1200 of our underserved and uninsured citizens. Fund-raising was led by none other than Michael Perl, while Priya Morganstern again contributed importantly by recruiting two volunteer attorneys from Aetna to play an absolutely critical but behind-the-scenes role by drafting waivers and/or releases relative to the services provided by the volunteer dentists.
Michael next raised $200,000 for the 2009 CTMOM that provided free dental care at the New Haven Public Field House to 1,781 patients and provided $881,760 in donated oral health care and medications. In 2009, Michael also stimulated organization of a 1-day “mini-CTMOM” at the Connecticut Health Services clinic in Hartford at which 30 volunteer dentists treated 240 people. Subsequently, Michael led the fundraising for the 2010 CTMOM in Middletown and the 2011 CTMOM in Waterbury.
The most recent Mission of Mercy took place on March 23-24, 2012 at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT. Over 1,800 volunteer dental personnel and community partners provided free dental care to more than 2,000 patients.