The organized chaos on the evening of Wednesday, July 16, 2014 was an orchestrated collaboration of three agencies to ensure Spanish-speaking families received the preventive dental treatment that is so often overlooked in low-income households.
Adelante, Inc., CareNet, and the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio, 2138 Madison Ave., teamed up to take care of short-term needs that are a whole lot cheaper to provide now than long-term health problems that could develop down the road through neglect, when someone may be forced to go to an emergency room for a serious medical situation.
“Of course, we’re going to do whatever we can to connect our clients with the agencies that are being so generous on nights like this,” said Stephanie Serda, who returned to Adelante about a month ago as the agency’s director of programs and services. “Not everyone has the opportunity to go get your teeth cleaned and all the other necessary things that keep you healthy.”
“It’s very important. We’re hoping to make this their dental home and that they feel comfortable coming here,” said Debbie Lizcano, dental clinic director. “We love working with the community and serving them.”
Even with passage of the Affordable Care Act, there are still low-income families who fall through the healthcare cracks—families who don’t qualify for Medicaid in Ohio or some other type of coverage. So CareNet, now in its tenth year, quietly continues to work to provide medical, vision, and dental services to those with no insurance.
Dental care almost always “slips through because they don’t think it’s as important” as medical or vision care in the minds of many uninsured families, according to the dental clinic director. So routine cleanings and exams often are overlooked—and the lack of such preventive care can be disastrous for young children.
“As the decay continues, infections are able to get worse. They may end up in the hospital—so it’s best to get them in as soon as possible, starting at age six months,” said Ms. Lizcano. “We never turn a child away. When they’re here, we try to do as much as possible—because we never know if they’re going to bring them back or not.”
The special evening was only supposed to last two hours. But volunteers patiently worked well beyond that window of time to ensure each child and adult received the best dental care possible.
“We like seeing a full lobby. We see it every day,” said Ms. Lizcano, who stated the clinic sees 3,000-plus patients each year. A mobile dental clinic also travels each summer to the migrant farm worker camps to ensure other Spanish-speaking families receive treatment on location.
Elizabeth Macino even waited patiently in another room to help ensure the long-term healthcare needs of the families would be met and their questions answered. The CareNet navigator helps families through their health insurance options—either signing up for Medicaid or obtaining a government-backed, low-cost policy through the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. But even the latter may still prove too expensive for many low-income families who would need to file for an exemption from obtaining mandatory health insurance.
“With an exemption from the marketplace and a denial from Medicaid, you can still stay on CareNet,” she said. “If you’re a non-U.S. citizen, you can stay on CareNet. Otherwise, we’re not insurance, so you can’t stay on CareNet without being fined by the (federal) government. We’re trying to make sure they have some medical in case something happens, they’ve got assistance.”
CareNet was founded as a community partnership a decade ago to provide free or low-cost healthcare services to people without insurance. The agency’s role continues to evolve with the complicated rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements. While the agency once served between 5,000 and 6,000 people per year, those numbers have dwindled to about 2,500 as CareNet members obtain insurance through Medicaid. People who need to sign up can call Medicaid at 1-800-324-8680 or contact United Way’s 211 telephone helpline.
“It’s hard to catch everybody from where I am,” she said. “There are still a lot of people out there (in need of health insurance.)”
CareNet continues to serve as the last resort for undocumented families, a stopgap at best with its limited resources.
“They sign up through Adelante. They send me the application and get them in the system and get them cards so they can get medication, testing, dentist visits,” she said.
At times, it becomes a frustrating system for Spanish-speaking families because of the complicated nature of obtaining health insurance and the built-in language barrier. In almost all cases, an interpreter is needed—and often lacking.
Ms. Serda’s homecoming of sorts rounds out a completely bilingual staff at Adelante to better serve its client base and the community at-large. Toledo continues to see a large influx of Spanish-speaking families.
“I love it—whatever I can do to help out in the community. It’s great to be back,” said Ms. Serda, who previously worked with Adelante’s youth programs from 2008 to 2011. “Even today, I saw some of the kids who were in my afterschool program—and they’re a couple of feet taller now. It’s great to be able to see the families again.”
Adelante staff won’t solely rely on obtaining grants because, like many Toledo-area nonprofits, the Latino Resource Center is seeing both government and private foundation grants shrink in size and scope. The agency will hold its first-ever carnival fundraiser at the Believe Center on Saturday, August 9.
“We definitely want to make sure the programs we have now are strengthened before we expand anything,” said Ms. Serda. “We have some high hopes for what we have coming along in the future.”