The Connecticut Oral Health Initiative: Our History
The Connecticut Oral Health Initiative (COHI) was founded in 2000-2001 as an outgrowth of both a Connecticut State Dental Association Committee and a result of the Surgeon-General’s issuance of the first-ever Report on Oral Health in America. It was ahead of its time as a pure advocacy organization seeking to create health care system changes to include oral and dental health, pressing for increased access to quality dental care for all of Connecticut’s citizens. The Connecticut Health Foundation perceived its worth and was the first funder of the Initiative or COHI. With the aid of Donald Green of Wilson/Green Associates and Richard Tomeo, a pro bono attorney with Robinson and Cole, a Constitution and By-Laws were created. COHI obtained a 501(c)3 designation in 2001.
The initial Board of Directors was co-founded by Dr. John Shaw, General Dentist in Hartford and first Executive Director, and Dr. Howard Mark, Oral Surgeon. Other initial Board members were Dr. Donald Greiner, Pediatric Dentist from New Britain; Jamey Bell, lead attorney of the Greater Hartford Legal Association, involved in a class action law suit against the State desiring increased fee reimbursements for dental practitioners caring for Connecticut’s HUSKY clients; Grace Damio, an advocate for the Latino population from the Hispanic Health Council; Dr. Michael Goodman, Pediatric Dentist from Newington; and Robin Knowles, Dental Hygienist and faculty member at Tunxis Community College. This dedicated Board threw themselves into the fray, testified at legislative hearings, joined other groups across the state to bring their vision of oral health parity and access to those who did not fully appreciate the impact of oral health on health in general, and were extremely vocal in many ways.
With the settlement of the law suit, the State now had to comply with its provisions. COHI worked with the Connecticut State Dental Association to recruit a new cadre of dentists to join in making access to good dental care easier, especially for HUSKY children and their parents, with the numbers of Medicaid dental providers increasing from a scant 200 to almost 1,900 in 2014. COHI contributed to the development of the first ever State Oral Health Improvement Plan for 2007 – 2012 and its second generation for 2013- 2018. COHI was instrumental, along with other partners, in getting a statute passed that created a permanent Office of Oral Health Director in the Department of Public Health. The aid of Judith Blei Governmental Affairs, a lobbying firm in Hartford, has been instrumental in gaining access to the Legislature, giving COHI an opportunity to educate these individuals about the worth and need for good oral health care. Some of these have become Oral Health Champions during their tenures, so necessary to assist COHI attain its goals. There is a lot more that COHI has accomplished, but space is limited to list them here. We are proud of what we have done to promote and to educate about good oral and dental health!
In addition, COHI serves on several partnerships and committees that bring together the disparate oral health community and others from across the state to continue this necessary effort of creating acceptance of the role that oral health can play in the context of general health. Individuals who have served on the Board span the spectrum of professions, and have given of themselves selflessly in COHI’s quest. The Connecticut Coalition on Oral Health is the most important of these, with COHI’s present Executive Director on its executive committee.
Funding for advocacy is not easily obtainable because there are no bricks and mortar to point to, forcing COHI to seek support from whatever sources it can find. Grants are one source, but the funding levels of these are quite low and also require much of the Executive Director’s time to monitor. Hopefully, as you read this, it will engender a desire to help!
JOIN WITH US TO HELP US ACHIEVE OUR MISSION OF QUALITY ORAL HEALTH FOR ALL!