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Helping veterans navigate care: Community Dental Health Coordinators pitch in

November 19, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Kenneth Brenzel, Karin Logue and Kevin Cox
Thankful: Kenneth Brenzel of the Morris County Veterans Services Office; Karin Logue, a volunteer; and Kevin Cox, a patient who received dental care, pose during a Nov. 3-4 clinic for veterans in New Jersey. Cox is holding a bag of goodies that each vet received which, among lots of other things, included a scarf and a thank you card handmade by local Girl Scouts.
Dover, N.J. — Nearly 200 veterans received dental care and the opportunity to establish a dental home at a Nov. 3-4 clinic here.

It wasn’t the first time Zufall Health, a nonprofit community health center, has hosted such an event, overseeing donated dental care for dozens of underserved veterans of all ages, representing each branch of the military.

But it was the first time volunteers training to be Community Dental Health Coordinators, or CDHCs, an ADA-developed and trademarked program, helped patients navigate the day and coordinate follow-up care.

The three CDHC students on the ground in Dover, who are dental assistants employed at Zufall Health clinics, helped patients check in, ensure they were getting the right treatment and understood what was being done for them. And now that the event is over, they are following up with those who need additional care.

Part of the ADA’s Action for Dental Health Initiative, the CDHC program trains these new dental team members to arrange patient transportation between community centers and dental clinics, teach oral health education, and help patients understand their dental care needs and proposed treatment plans. CDHCs are currently working in 21 states. Educational programs to become a CDHC are accessible from every state. The Zufall Health CDHC students are part of an online training program offered through Rio Salado College based in Tempe, Arizona.

During the Veterans Day event, the unique CDHC training was helpful in assisting many patients get the best care possible, said Dr. Sam Wakim, chief dental officer for Zufall Health.

At the clinics, located in six counties in New Jersey, there are a total of seven CDHC students who, in addition to their regular dental assistant duties, serve as case managers.

Each year, Zufall Health leaders reassure those who come out for the veterans event that this is not their only chance at getting dental care. Last year, 78 percent of the patients who came out for the event returned to Zufall to establish it as their dental home, said Dr. Wakim.

“We’re your dental home and our dental staff at all our sites will be here permanently to make sure you receive what you need,” said Eva Turbiner, Zufall’s president and chief executive officer assured the veterans at the event in November.

The CDHCs in training joined more than 60 dentists, hygienists and dental assistants from all over the state who donated care Nov. 3-4.

“We were very happy and excited to be at the event, helping veterans who have done a lot for us,” said Maria Buri, one of the dental assistants in the CDHC program. “It is very rewarding to help them and make sure they get the treatment they need.”

In addition to no-cost care, the event brought lunch, the opportunity to interact with therapy dogs, raffles and caricatures by a local artist to the veterans. A remembrance wall allowed them to post photos or messages to pay tribute to fellow veterans.

The event was the result of a collaboration between Zufall Health, Delta Dental of New Jersey, the New Jersey Dental Association and Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation.

For more information about the CDHC program, visit ADA.org/CDHC. For more information about Zufall Health or to volunteer at one of their clinics, visit ZufallHealth.org or email Dr. Wakim, swakim@zufallhealth.org.