Arcora Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit funded by Washington’s largest dental benefits provider, Delta Dental of Washington (DDWA), has provided $1,085,000 in grants to 17 tribes in Washington state. The funds will help the tribes’ dental clinics meet essential oral health needs amidst the pandemic.
The onset of COVID-19 hit tribes and their clinics especially hard. First, initial stay-at-home orders and other requirements limited patient visits. Then dental providers were required to suspend all non-emergent care for two months, resulting in layoffs and loss of revenue. When dental programs were permitted to reopen in June, significant protective restrictions further limited the number of patient visits, while the costs of PPE and other equipment to ensure safety imposed additional unforeseen expenses. Yet many of these clinics, as the only place to get care in rural areas, continued to provide emergent care.
“Over the last several years, we have been working closely with tribal communities to address oral health inequities,” said Arcora Foundation President and CEO Vanetta Abdellatif. “Given COVID-19 impacts, we knew it was important to move quickly to address emerging needs. We are grateful to our tribal partners for collaborating with us to distribute these funds equitably so that they could have the greatest impact when and where they were needed most.”
Even before COVID-19 exacerbated the significant health disparities among Washington’s lower-income residents — disparities even more disproportionate among BIPOC communities — tribal clinics operated in challenging financial circumstances with small margins and large percentages of low-income patients. Despite all of these difficulties, tribes lead the way in developing and implementing innovative, culturally appropriate models of delivering health care — including dental care.
“During this pandemic, we have all learned to smile with our eyes, but let’s not forget about the smile under that mask,” said Ticey Mason, director of the Northwest Tribal Dental Support Center. “We are grateful for Arcora Foundation’s support to help us implement the innovations and changes our dental programs need to insure American Indian and Alaska Native people have good oral and overall health. We are strong and resilient people, and perseverance is in our DNA. We have survived pandemics in the past, and we will survive this one too.”