The Providence Seaside Hospital Foundation was one of 14 organizations statewide recently chosen by a cadre of philanthropic groups to receive a multiyear grant to create school-based dental programs.
Alana Kujala, manager of community partnerships and volunteer services for Providence Seaside, said the grant will fund a full-time oral health program coordinator based at the hospital and visiting school districts across Clatsop County.
“A lot of what this person will do is what school nurses may not have the time to do,” Kujala said.
The coordinator will help with outreach, educational materials, take-home supplies and referrals to health care providers.
The grant lasts four years, starting with $70,000 to hire the coordinator by April, while also helping pay for supplies to perform basic dental services, screenings and access to treatment when needed. According to the hospital’s application, there are only two dentists in the county serving low-income children on the Oregon Health Plan.
The hospital’s program will phase in more services and grades over time, and Kujala said the hospital has committed to keep the program going beyond the grant cycle.
While the hospital doesn’t provide dental services, she said, “If we can target oral health care for these kids at a young age, it will help their overall health” as they grow older.
Kujala said the hospital prepared the grant in concert with local schools, health care providers and the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization, which serves families on the Oregon Health Plan.
The Strategic Plan for Oral Health in Oregon, covering 2014 to 2020, found that only 24 percent of children ages 1 to 3 had visited a dentist. More than half of third-graders had experienced dental decay, increasing to nearly three-quarters of high school juniors. Dental problems worsen for children from low-income and rural families and racial minorities.
The plan recommended the state hire a dental director, promote preventative services and education serving children, address shortages in oral health providers and both culturally and linguistically diversify the state’s dental workforce.
The Oregon Community Foundation recently teamed with The Collins Foundation, the Ford Family Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Meyer Memorial Trust, Northwest Health Foundation, Providence Health & Services and Oregon-based medical equipment supplier A-dec to create the Oral Health Funders Collaborative. The group provides grants for planning and implementing school-based dental programs.
Joan Vallejo, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Community Foundation, said a first round of grants helped plan the school-based programs. The recipients from the second round of implementation funding were part of the existing dental initiatives program, with priority given to high-poverty areas.