Last June, we issued a statement against racism, inequity and injustice and called for change to ensure that justice and compassion are reflected in our institutions, and that the health and safety of all people are valued equally. Our commitment to these values is deeply ingrained in our organization. Health equity drives our work.

Our DEI journey

For the last few years, Arcora Foundation staff and board have been deepening our understanding of and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Board and staff have engaged in numerous learning opportunities and facilitated conversations to reflect on our own individual stories. We are engaging with communities to align our approaches with community needs and aspirations and integrating DEI into our programs, sponsorships and grants. We aim to be an equitable organization and an authentic partner.

Here is some of what we have done in 2020 to bend the arc of oral health toward equity.

Protecting dental care for lower-income adults

Our commitment to equity includes helping to lead a coalition to preserve Medicaid dental coverage for low-income adults. Oral health is health. Oral disease is linked to heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illness, all risk factors for COVID-19.

Given the budget challenges facing the state, the Apple Health dental program for adults may be cut. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget preserves funding for the Apple Health adult dental program. However, this is just an initial step in the state budget process. We must remain vigilant and urge legislators to continue support for this vital safety net program that protects the health of lower-income people and communities of color hardest hit by COVID-19.

Please watch this video and then visit OralHealthWatch.org to join efforts to ensure everyone has access to essential dental coverage.

Grants and donations with an equity focus

This year we provided $4.5 million in grants to Community Health Centers, nonprofit and tribal dental clinics. The funds helped these organizations manage their response to the pandemic and provide dental access to lower-income populations and communities of color. We are actively involved in supporting fluoridation in Spokane and across the state. Water fluoridation is a cost-effective and equitable approach to prevent cavities for everyone without regard to age, income, race or ethnicity. The Spokane City Council recently accepted a $4 million grant ($3 million from Arcora Foundation and $1 million raised locally) to study how to best implement water fluoridation. We also initiated a statewide education campaign focused on the health benefits of fluoride. Special thanks to Arcora Foundation’s Board of Trustees for their leadership and to our funder, Delta Dental of Washington, for providing additional resources this year to help support these efforts.

Programs focused on under-resourced communities

Many of our programs including  SmileMobile, DentistLink and The Mighty Mouth provide assistance and information to communities that have been systemically under-resourced. This month we are delivering more than 17,000 oral health kits to lower-income communities across the state. Early in the pandemic, we donated more than $180,000 for food security. We will provide another food security donation before the end of the year. Using an equity lens, we awarded nearly $200,000 in small grants to a variety of organizations to fund dental clinics that serve tribal members in Washington, purchase PPE for providers, fund a care coordinator for schoolchildren and develop an oral health screening tool for people who are immigrants or refugees.

Spotlight on health equity and racial justice

It’s been a very challenging year but with the expectation of a vaccine, 2021 holds promise for future progress. COVID-19 has laid bare the inequities in our society and the structural racism that prevents too many people of color from accessing care. The increased spotlight on health equity and racial justice will provide unique opportunities to continue progress toward our vision to improve oral health for all, with no one left behind. We are eager to continue working with partners across the state to ensure that race, ethnicity, age, disability or income does not determine one’s health status.