Closing health disparities in Oklahoma
February 12, 2018
Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series featuring graduates of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership and how these dental leaders continue to affect their communities
— Dr. Timothy Kinnard was in private practice when he found a question he wanted answered: How well is SoonerCare, the state's Medicaid program, serving his community, especially dental access for children?
To help answer the question, in 2007, he applied for the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, a program designed to enhance the leadership skills of dentists who belong to racial, ethnic and/or gender backgrounds that have been traditionally underrepresented in leadership roles within the profession and their communities.
"I thought the Institute would be interesting because I'm of ethnic background," said Dr. Kinnard, who is African-American. "I thought it would be a good experience to be around people of diverse backgrounds who had their own ideas to positively affect their communities."
As part of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, participants are tasked with developing and executing a personal leadership project that addresses an issue or challenge in his or her community, organization or the profession. Institute participants receive help from ADA staff and work with leading educators from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
After conducting his research, in summary, SoonerCare "could be improved," he said. But more important to finding an answer to his question, his experience with the Institute put him on a path to focus more on public health.
Serving Native Americans
While in private practice, Dr. Kinnard was doing contract dentistry, practicing one day a week at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic. In 2010, he decided to work for the nonprofit clinic full-time. One year later, he became its dental director.
According to Dr. Kinnard, travel and cost affects dental access for many in the Native American community. The clinic was often some of his patients' last dental option, he said.
"This clinic served a community with health and dental disparity," he said. "We were faced with limited resources but we provided the best service we could to our patients. We were serving a population, that without us being there, may not have had dental access."
The clinic saw over 10,000 patient visits a year. Dr. Kinnard served as its dental director for six years.
Returning to private practice
In 2017, Dr. Kinnard decided to transition back to private practice — this time using his leadership experience at the Institute and the clinic in establishing a practice that could help improve the care patients receive including dental Medicaid patients.
"I'm an African-American, my wife is Native American and my kids are African-American and Native American," he said. "I've had an interest in getting back to private practice for awhile but I wanted to continue serving people in my community where there are health disparities among minority populations."
In January, Dr. Kinnard closed on his new dental practice and began treating patients in the northeast area of Oklahoma City.
"It's a community that's primarily African-American, and we'll be serving diverse patients, including Native-Americans," he said.
Many of his patients are likely to be on Medicaid.
In his Institute project, Dr. Kinnard found that Medicaid was serving the population, particularly pediatric patients, well for basic and preventive service. However, there were concerns about wait times when it comes to getting authorization to do more major types of services, such as root canals and crowns.
Other drawbacks, according to his research project, found that dentists were concerned that some services may not be covered and there was a feeling that reimbursement rates could be better.
Dr. Kinnard said he plans to use his knowledge and experience to help his new patients.
"It helps me to be better able to streamline many of the dental services that dental Medicaid may offer to patients versus getting caught up in 'red tape,'" he said. "By doing so, patients are treated more quickly and more likely to have better dental outcomes."
For more information on the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, which admits dentists each year with all expenses covered by the ADA, Henry Schein Cares and Crest + Oral-B, visit ADA.org/diversityinstitute