BOSTON — July 13, 2023 – On its third annual Health Equity Hero Day today, DentaQuest, part of Sun Life U.S., announced its 2023 Health Equity Heroes, who this year represent the nation’s health connectors. In addition to celebrating and promoting the work of the 12 Health Equity Heroes, DentaQuest is making $60,000 in charitable contributions — $5,000 in the name of each hero to a qualified nonprofit of their choice.
Now in its ninth year, the DentaQuest Health Equity Heroes program honors individuals and organizations responsible for extraordinary work that advances equitable access to health care (medical, oral health, behavioral health) and thus optimal overall health. This year, DentaQuest recognizes the unique ways we benefit from health connectors — forward-thinkers taking action to remedy and eliminate systemic disparities in an effort to make health systems more welcoming to all.
The pandemic and its aftermath exacerbated the major gaps in health care across the country, making access and affordability more difficult than ever,” said Steve Pollock, president at DentaQuest. “This year’s Health Equity Heroes are truly health connectors, bridging these gaps, positively impacting their communities and making real change from the ground up. We are proud to recognize these individuals as heroes and celebrate their efforts and accomplishments improving oral and overall health for all.
The 2023 Health Equity Heroes:
Joel Bervell, a student at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and TikTok’s 2021 Voice of Change, is making a life-saving impact on his digital community. As part of his mission to make health care more approachable, Joel creates TikTok content that covers a wide range of health and medical topics exposing health disparities and debunking long-standing myths, including racial biases in medicine. Joel's videos provide easily digestible sound bites that empower his 637,000 viewers to take control of their health and challenge systemic injustices. Joel’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support National Medical Fellowships.
Richard Black, DDS, MS, founding dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, practiced orthodontics for 40 years before dedicating himself to guiding the education of the next generation of dental oral health professionals. The school trains dentists in El Paso, a county with only 1 dentist for every 4,840 residents, compared to the national average of 1 dentist for every 1,638 individuals. Situated on the Texas-Mexico border, the school boasts a dental health curriculum focused not only on developing the latest, most technically advanced skills, but also on addressing the needs of patients and overall public health. Richard’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support the Dental Dean’s Excellence Fund of the Woody L. Hunt School of Dental Medicine.
Gail Brown is a lifelong health care advocate and director of the New Hampshire Oral Health Coalition. Thanks in large part to her work over two decades, the state recently established an adult Medicaid dental benefit. Gail’s grassroots approach creates strong relationships with members of the medical and dental community, the legislature, education and advocacy groups, and the insurance industry. Despite a vetoed proposal in 2020 and another failed bill in 2021, Brown remained undeterred. She continued educating stakeholders, providers and consumers about the importance of oral health and pushed for new legislation. As a result, more than 120,000 New Hampshire residents now qualify for adult Medicaid dental benefits. Gail’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support the New Hampshire Oral Health Coalition.
Theresa Cheng, DDS, is founder and president of Everyone for Veterans (E4V), a nonprofit dedicated to providing free comprehensive dental care, resources and other support to veterans in need. Just about 15% of veterans are eligible for dental benefits through the federal Veterans Health Administration, meaning veterans are more likely to experience worse oral health outcomes compared to those who did not serve. Theresa has created a network of more than 680 volunteer dentists from 34 states to deliver oral health care to veterans and their families. Theresa’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support E4V.
Lauren Easton directs the Commonwealth Care Alliance’s (CCA) efforts to drive health equity in Greater Boston. The CCA offers health plans and care delivery programs designed for people with significant needs. In her role as vice president of integrative program development and clinical innovation, Lauren focuses on providing support to unhoused individuals, leading such initiatives as the establishment of Marie’s Place Crisis Stabilization Unit. CCA members with behavioral health and substance use disorders benefit from the innovative, safe, home-like environment at Marie’s Place, which is a valuable alternative to inpatient psychiatric care. Lauren’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support Bay Cove Human Services.
Cathy Levering, executive director of Sacramento District Dental Society (SDDS) and volunteer foundation leader, ensures that dental plans and providers fulfill their responsibility to care for Medicaid members in the region. SDDS under Cathy’s leadership notably in 2009 identified a crucial gap in the region’s managed care program. Her efforts drove significant program changes and grew dental access for children, with nearly 95% insured today. Cathy also expanded the foundation’s dental screening program from 1 school to 45. And the annual Smiles for Kids Day previously involved treating more than 1,000 kids at 40 sites, but her efforts to boost access helped cut that to 200 kids at just 3 sites. Cathy’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support the SDDS Foundation.
Adam Luck has spent the last six years addressing the needs of unhoused individuals. As CEO of City Care in Oklahoma City, he focuses on equity and access, helping people find stability and housing. City Care provides vital services such as a low-barrier night shelter, transportation, permanent housing, and more. Through strategic partnerships, Adam helps give people access to essential services. For example, City Care’s Whiz Kids after-school tutoring and mentoring program recently added a dental health literacy initiative to help 550 students at risk of school failure also learn the importance of good oral hygiene. Adam has transformed countless lives, making him a champion of health equity. Adam’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support City Care.
Christina Rosenthal, DDS, MPH, established Determined to be a Doctor Someday (DDS) to give back to the inner-city Memphis, where she grew up. DDS offers young people programming and mentorship to inspire change and foster interest in future health care careers. Each six-month program serves about 30 students ages 14 to 18 and features guest speakers who share similarities with participating students. These speakers candidly share their stories and how they became doctors, dentists, or other health professionals. Hundreds of students have completed DDS over the past 12 years, with many pursuing careers in medicine and some earning full college scholarships. Christina’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support the 516 Foundation.
Bridget Saffold, MSN, MPH, RN, has dedicated herself to raising awareness about diabetes through her health education program, Focus on Diabetes. Recognizing oral health’s significant impact on overall wellbeing and its connection to diabetes, Bridget aims to educate her community about early detection and prevention. When her father passed away from diabetes-related complications, she recognized an essential gap in patient care – time and education. Annual Focus on Diabetes seminars and group meetings throughout the year address those gaps by assembling experts and community members for education on the disease and how to manage it without the limit of 15-minute clinic appointments. Bridget’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support Focus on Diabetes.
Tammy Simmons is the driving force behind the Arkansas nonprofit ACCESS. Dedicated to serving individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, Tammy has helped remove barriers that limit access to proper oral care and medical services. Since 1994, ACCESS has provided a comprehensive special education program in Little Rock, empowering children, young adults, and families with disabilities to build brighter futures. The nonprofit offers diagnostics, outpatient therapies, full-time education, and vocational training, to promote financial independence and community integration, reducing reliance on government safety-net programs. Tammy’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support ACCESS.
Darlene Sorrell, DMD, is the first Navajo dentist and a co-founder of the Society for American Indian Dentists (SAID). During her 38-year career, she provided care with the Indian Health Service. Darlene now works with the Navajo Nation’s only nonprofit dental clinic, Nizhóní (Beautiful) Smiles – essential work, considering that dental disease incidence among Navajos is triple the rate of the general population. As president of the clinic’s board, Darlene collaborates with former colleagues and friends to grow staff and career opportunities at the clinic with initiatives such as an on-the-job dental assistant training program, plus mentorship and shadowing. Darlene’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support Nizhoni Smiles.
Mark Wolff, DDS, PhD, established a dental home for more than 7,000 individuals by creating the Penn Dental Medicine’s Personalize Care Suite/Care Center for Persons with Disabilities in 2020. With experience running a private practice for patients with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD), Mark set out to transform dental education when he became Dean of Penn Dental in 2018. To do so, he established a dental clinic and teledentistry program designed for adults with IDD. Mark also pioneered an online, no-cost continuing education series to enhance providers’ knowledge about caring for this population – more than 50 modules seen by more than 3,500 professionals in 30 countries. Mark’s Health Equity Hero donation will be used to support the Vulnerable Populations Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania.
The Sun Life U.S. dental business, including DentaQuest, is dedicated to improving the oral health of all through purpose-driven, outcomes-based solutions. We make dental benefits better for everyone through Preventistry® – an inclusive approach centered on preventive, quality care, expanded access and solutions built on valued relationships across the health care ecosystem. We manage dental and vision benefits for approximately 37 million Americans. For 30 years, we have delivered cost-effective benefit plans and services for employer groups, individuals, health plans, and government-sponsored dental programs. We are the largest and most experienced Medicaid and CHIP dental benefits administrator in the U.S. We also support direct patient care through an expanding network of 80 dental practices in underserved communities across the United States. Learn more about the Sun Life U.S. dental business at www.Sunlife.com/dental and www.DentaQuest.com.
The newsletter designed for anyone who wants to improve oral health for themselves, their families, customers or communities.