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State dental leaders share public affairs progress reports

Oregon executive: Mr. Zepp lauded the flexibility of the public affairs initiative. "It's been a tremendous support for us." (Photo by Bill Geiger)

We appreciate the help we're getting, they said in Washington Leadership Conference reports describing early progress with the public affairs strategy approved by the 2006 ADA House of Delegates and just coming into bloom.

The House directed the Association to "initiate a nationally coordinated, state-targeted, integrated public affairs plan" by partnering with selected state dental associations facing significant advocacy issues.

In Arizona it was "access challenges in our rural and tribal areas" and in Maine, "a perfect storm" of legislation. In Oregon, "we were back into our fluoride battle." WLC reports from the profession's tripartite leadership and the private sector firm managing the initiative, Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter (CLS), offered the first project update for a national dental audience. The WLC attracted more than 600 dental leaders, including nearly 400 dentists and state constituent officers, executives and lobbyists, from around the country.

Dr. Anita Elliott, president of the Arizona Dental Association, and Rick Murray, executive director, see the partnership introducing a community dental health coordinator to the dental team to increase access to care in rural and tribal areas. "Rick and I are presenting across the state to educate, inform and solicit support and feedback as the ADA develops the curriculum," she said. "We are working together to carry a consistent message about the CDHC to communities in Arizona and the rest of the country."

Thanks to the public affairs initiative, they will take their message to the nation's capitol in a meeting with the Congressional Native American Caucus, Dr. Elliott said. "We have had a lot of positive comments and support from the ADA board members and the ADA Council on Government Affairs for our willingness to take the initiative in the access to care issue and develop the CDHC model. Our goal is to help develop a program that is right for Arizona's communities but we hope our experience will help other states as they develop their own access issues."

In Maine, "the public affairs initiative stepped into our drama," said Dr. Joseph R. Kenneally, who serves on the Maine Dental Association executive board and council on governmental relations. "Maine is relieved and grateful to be part of the public affairs initiative as a tier 1 state."

Selected states receive tier 1 support for in-depth, targeted campaigns or tier 2 spot support for specific issues. Tier 3 development of public affairs toolkits will serve as resources for all states including states not otherwise participating in the public affairs initiative.

"We have yearly issues with our legislature but this year we are facing 'the perfect storm' of bad legislation," he said. Dr. Kenneally cited legislation that would expand dental hygienists' scope of practice and ban amalgam. "On the good side we did manage to make amalgam safe in Maine for yet another year although we seem to see the ban just about every year. Every legislature somebody brings it up."

The new public affairs emphasis "helped us keep Bangor's water system fluoridated" and "gives us political capital in cities and counties across the state," Dr. Kenneally said. "And we're teaching dentists how to talk to politicians and bureaucrats and build their skills locally. Why is Maine important? The MDA has a small staff, just two full-time and two part-time and a fairly small group of dedicated leaders.

"We are seen as vulnerable by groups that disagree with us, and we really do appreciate what we are getting for help here. We could easily be a pilot project and you could see how some of our solutions work in your states," he told the nation's dental leaders.

Oregon tested the flexibility of the public affairs initiative, said Bill Zepp, Oregon Dental Association executive. "We received a very questionable promotion recently. We went from tier 2 to tier 1. When this program was rolled out there were several criteria for which states would be considered, several obstacles you were facing, and we were back into our fluoride battle" to increase access to fluoridated drinking water, in Portland especially.

"We fought that battle for going on 30 years, had a major campaign in 2005, came very close, didn't quite make it and renewed it again for 2007." When an amalgam separator bill, scope of practice and denturist questions were added to the mix, Oregon moved from tier 2 to tier 1. "I cite that promotion because one of the advantages I see to this program is that as soon as the ADA folks and CLS recognized the fact that our situation was changing, this program was flexible enough to change with it and they were able to move in and give Oregon some additional resources in the fight.

Through the initiative, with the help of a local public affairs firm, the ODA created a Healthy Smiles Coalition Web site to advocate for fluoridation, said Mr. Zepp. "So as far as Oregon is concerned, again despite the promotion, we're very satisfied, very happy to be involved in this program. It's been a tremendous support for us."

The Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter firm reports monthly to the Association on state activities under the public affairs initiative and will provide a comprehensive report to the 2007 ADA House of Delegates.