|Keys to Success - The Tooth Taxi
By Barry Finnemore
To get an idea of the Tooth Taxi's tremendous impact, consider one Salem family, whose three children received $3,000 in free dental services that brought the youngsters' dad to tears.
He said, "I'd never be able to give this to my kids," recalls Cecilia Easdale, site coordinator for Tooth Taxi visits with the nonprofit Oregon Child Development Coalition (OCDC), a migrant Early Head Start and Head Start program. "That's the reason we do this."
Easdale, the OCDC's family and health services supervisor, is critical to the success of the Tooth Taxi when it visits OCDC sites. She helps raise community awareness prior to the visits, coordinates with OCDC partner organizations to ensure applications reach families in need, and makes certain things run smoothly when children arrive for dental screenings and treatment.
Easdale says networking year-round with other Head Start organizations, social service agencies, schools, businesses and the dental community is her most important Tooth Taxi-related task.
"It takes a whole village," she says, noting such outreach has paid tremendous dividends because OCDC now hears from families who ask about Tooth Taxi visits.
The Tooth Taxi, sponsored by the Dental Foundation of Oregon in partnership with OEA Choice Trust and ODS Health, is a state-of-the-art mobile dental office launched in 2008 in response to the growing oral health crisis in Oregon. A full-time dentist and staff reach out across Oregon, providing screenings, cleanings, sealants, X-rays, fillings, minor oral surgery and oral health education for Oregon's neediest children. It is supported by donations from foundations, corporations and individuals, and by volunteers from the dental community and local schools that help identify children in need.
Site coordinators such as Easdale are invaluable because they are the point people critical to effective Tooth Taxi visits, says Mary Daly, the DFO's Tooth Taxi program manager. Among other things, Easdale oversees a system that recruits eligible patients, distributes and helps families complete mandatory consent forms and other paperwork, and provides on-site organization during screening and treatment days – including details such as where the dental van parks and soliciting donated refreshments.
Coordination just prior to a Tooth Taxi visit is critical. Easdale, her OCDC colleagues and sometimes outside volunteers contact families about when to arrive so that appointments are spaced throughout the day. They also provide any needed Spanish-language translation.
At OCDC sites in Salem and Independence, the Tooth Taxi has screened 344 youngsters and treated 146 from multiple communities, the vast majority in 2010 alone. The value of the dentistry exceeds $95,500.
Daly praised Easdale's organizational skills, dedication and leadership, underscoring Easdale's role as a Tooth Taxi champion by noting that, with respect to partnering with the OCDC, Tooth Taxi visits are not at schools, which adds an additional patient-recruiting challenge because the sites do not have large, captive student audiences.
"The OCDC has really embraced the Tooth Taxi," Daly says. "They have taken it to heart and are reaching out to people to make sure they don't slip through the cracks and to follow up when there is a need."
To that end, Easdale's team goes the extra mile after Tooth Taxi visits, helping families not on the Oregon Health Plan determine their eligibility and, if appropriate, understand how to access the system.
Easdale's passion for helping children and families can be traced to her experience in her native Argentina. While socialized medicine there ensures broad access to health care, she realized that the system could be better.
"To come to a country with so many resources, yet to see families without access to those resources, saddens me. With the Tooth Taxi, it was easy for me to engage. If we can prevent problems, it will cost us less and help people be healthier and have better outcomes."
Easdale praises the work of Dr. Weston Heringer Jr. and the Tooth Taxi staff, as well as the volunteer dentists from surrounding communities who have served youngsters via the Tooth Taxi. Dr. Heringer, she says, takes the time to connect with children and parents, using humor and a down-to-earth approach to inform and educate.
"To see Dr. Heringer, an important person in the field, talking with passion to each family, it is the biggest factor making this work. His passion for dental health in children is amazing. It is contagious and inspiring."
Is your school or organization interested in becoming a Tooth Taxi site partner?www.smileonoregon.org, or contact Tooth Taxi Program Manager Mary Daly at Mary.Daly@SmileOnOregon.org.