Organization bites into social problem

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Two years ago, the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition took its first step toward recovering from financial ruin that threatened to the end the organization.

Debi Harmon (then Garoutte) was tapped by the coalition board to find a way to save the nonprofit after the previous executive director pleaded guilty to theft of more than $30,000 from the Dental Coalition and another nonprofit.

The theft left the Dental Coalition in such a precarious financial position that it had to solicit donations just to reconnect phone service.

Two years later, the group has rebounded, expanded its mission and restored the public's confidence in its ability to provide affordable dental care and education to indigent and low-income residents in Northwest Colorado.

Originally, the group served uninsured families of low-income children, many of whom had never seen a dentist. But others were falling through the cracks. Harmon lobbied the coalition's partner, Kids in Need of Dentistry (KIND), to expand its eligibility guidelines to include children who qualify for Medicaid coverage so they could be treated in the traveling Miles for Smiles Dental Van.

Since there are no local dentists who accept Medicaid patients, many children in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties were forgoing routine dental treatments or traveling hundreds of miles to see Medicaid dentists.

Now, an additional 1,276 children in the tri-county area have access to convenient dental care and Harmon is working hard to schedule appointments as the van completes a 22-week tour of the area. It's currently located in the 400 block of Breeze Street in Craig and will be here through May. So far the van is booked solid through the first week of April, but the coalition has only served about 15 percent of the Medicaid patients eligible.

Dental decay is the most chronic disease among children, yet it's 100 percent preventable. The focus of the coalition's work is to teach children good oral hygiene. The coalition's ultimate goal is to spend its money keeping kids healthy through prevention than trying to fix dental problems that compromise a child's health and development.

Harmon is pleased with the outpouring of support the coalition has received over the past two years, including help from local dentists.

"They're doing everything they can," she said. "The community has been phenomenal and the United Way has been wonderful to continue to fund us and recognize our growth. We need to keep collaborating and cooperating."

The Moffat County School District, school nurses, public health nurses, the Visiting Nurse Association and Social Services employees -- "all of us that have contact in some way with Medicaid children" -- have been encouraging Medicaid families to take advantage of the opportunity for dental care, Harmon said.

The coalition's next step is build up its board and its patient assistance fund. We urge the community to continue supporting the coalition's important work.

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