By bringing together non-traditional partners to improve access to oral health care, our work directly aligns with ConnectVA’s mission to strengthen our community.
Q. Tell us about yourself and your work.
I graduated from James Madison University in 2003 with a degree in English and a concentration in creative writing. My first job out of school was helping to connect uninsured individuals with state-funded medical assistance programs. From there, I moved on to serve as the education assistant, then education director, of a nonprofit organization that functions as a quality watchdog for dialysis facilities. My current position as the communications and operations manager at the Virginia Oral Health Coalition has followed my previous work experience and education organically. It allows me to flex my writing muscles, plan quality education events, and, best of all, add value to an issue that so important and terribly underrated — access to oral health care.
The Virginia Oral Health Coalition aims to increase access to oral health services in the Commonwealth to ensure all Virginians have the opportunity to achieve optimal oral health — primarily through policy change, public awareness, and innovative programs, like our medical and dental collaboration initiatives. These efforts are multiplied through an alliance of over 100 individual and organizational partners working together as one body, with the Coalition serving as the backbone and driving force.
Q: What do love about your job?
Knowing that we’re watching out for the oral health of hundreds of thousands of fellow Virginians is a great and rewarding responsibility. The Coalition makes major strides to bring oral health care to individuals in need. Twice we have successfully advocated at the General Assembly to restore funding to state-supported dental clinics after the executive budget cut clinic funding; this maintained state-supported dental care for 20,000 Virginians, most of them children.
I love that the Coalition is nimble and reactive; this characteristic has allowed us to take on some dynamic opportunities, like working closely with the Dept. of Health to promote oral health awareness and diving into an upcoming grant to improve oral health care for the developmentally disabled. Still, being the go-to resource for oral health access in Virginia is a big job that we take quite seriously. We at the Coalition put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the most articulate and respectful voice for this issue, always keeping in mind that we represent a robust network of partners. We pride ourselves on being a warm and collaborative force, and we know that our partners are just as important as our staff — I believe that’s the best lesson I’ve learned so far.
My biggest personal achievement occurred right at the start — when I helped to organize the Coalition’s first Oral Health Summit within the first two months on the job. Lucky for me, many major decisions — like date, location, and agenda — were set. Yet I had a huge learning curve. Somehow, with the help of volunteers and a few late nights, we pulled off a stellar event and made a positive impression on the community.
Q: What’s coming next?
Our third annual Virginia Oral Health Summit is coming up on November 8 in Richmond, and it’s shaping up to be our best event yet — a real game changer for oral health care. The summit will drill into the future of oral health care delivery in Virginia and give participants an opportunity to share their own thoughts and ideas. We have a great faculty of speakers lined up to stir the pot of conventional thinking, and I expect the discussion to be quite innovative and thought-provoking. We are also hosting a preconference breakfast for human resources professionals to discuss how dental benefits can improve health and save money, with a welcome address from Dr. William Hazel, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources.
If you would like to stay updated on how the Coalition is impacting oral health care in Virginia, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@VAOralHealth) or visit their website, www.vaoralhealth.org.