“We advocate at all levels to raise awareness and discover how accessible oral and medical health care can best be delivered to the 56 million Americans living with disabilities.”
John D. Kemp
Chairman, Project Accessible Oral Health;
President and CEO, The Viscardi Center
The Viscardi Center feels strongly that access to good health care is a fundamental civil right of people with disabilities. Yet, often we are overlooked or underserved, simply because people feel we can be dismissed or ignored. If we are sent away, then we as people with disabilities tend to become discouraged, stop fighting, give up and stay at home, or worse, not seek out the proper care. This only compounds our problems and ultimately costs the taxpayer more money, all while someone is suffering with an illness unnecessarily. This is why we are proud to help raise awareness and ultimately change healthcare policies that will ensure people with disabilities can access good – even great – oral health care and lead full, healthy lives.
It’s a very challenging situation, especially when we think about creating a new service delivery system to provide oral health and overall health care to a community where no two individual’s disabilities are alike. Therefore, this important effort must focus on access, including access to the physical environment; access to affordable, proper medical and dental care; and access to appropriate healthcare education for the patient and the practitioner.
Access begins from the minute a person with a disability – anyone from a very young child all the way to a senior citizen – navigates getting from the parking lot to inside a doctor’s or dentist’s office. Is there a ramp? Can they enter the doorway? Is there appropriate directional signage? Can they access the chairs that are in there? Can wheelchair users transfer into the dental chair? How can a practitioner best serve a person on the autism spectrum? Is there an inclusive culture built within the office environment? Are they prepared and willing to accept people with a variety of disabilities? Are they willing to listen to what we are trying to say about how best to serve our specific needs?
Then, there are the financial pressures for both patient and practitioner. The patient hopes whether they are employed or not, that some combination of private insurance or Medicaid will cover the visit while receiving valuable care from the health care professional. The doctor or dentist, on the other hand, may be facing limited reimbursement—at a certain rate based on an amount of patients being seen in 15 minute segments. The intensity of services and the reimbursement rate just don’t provide for the adequate time that is sometimes needed to address the various, specialized needs presented by people with disabilities.
But we shouldn’t be exceptional. We should be accepted as ordinary and there should be a way in which policy allows for people with disabilities, with a variety of conditions, to be able to be served properly. Legislative and regulatory issues really need to be changed so that practitioners can be properly reimbursed for the services they are providing for children and adults with a broad range of disabilities.
Education is also important, especially for families and practitioners. For families, it is to ensure they have the resources and are aware of all opportunities to help their children achieve optimal, preventive medical and oral health care. Conversely, we must as a community educate health care practitioners. For instance, helping to ensure there is a disability-themed keynote and/or sessions presented anytime there are dental and medical association meetings, so practitioners can better understand what they could and should be doing to serve our population.
Despite the complexities at hand, there is hope. I believe we’re continuing to improve our ability to serve people with disabilities and to learn more about best practices. Today, health care systems such as New York University, Northwell Health and Stony Brook University are addressing this through clinics focused on serving the unique dental and medical needs of people with disabilities, and in an effort to improve their overall health. But, we must do more.
That is why The Viscardi Center embraces the launch of Project Accessible Oral Health. It is within our mission to enhance the quality of life of all people, including people with disabilities. The nearly 200 medically fragile children who attend the Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center every day need and deserve to have the best oral health and overall health possible. We advocate at all levels to raise awareness and discover how accessible oral and medical health care can best be delivered to the over 57 million Americans living with disabilities.