In an effort to foster multidisciplinary community outreach, the Hutto-Patterson Charitable Foundation will give $3 million to establish the Hutto-Patterson Institute for Community Health at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California (OSD USC) and the University of Southern California School of Social Work.
To expand the efforts of both schools to improve overall well-being in the Los Angeles area, the gift will be used to purchase a custom-made eight-chair mobile clinic trailer as well as provide for endowed faculty funds and student scholarships focusing on those who work in the schools’ outreach programs. This significant funding would allow USC to reach its goal of providing services to more than 45,000 underserved children in the Children’s Health and Maintenance Program (CHAMP).
For Catherine Hutto Gordon, M.S.W., President of the Hutto-Patterson Foundation, making this gift was a perfect fit. The foundation, which was established with an inheritance from her dentist grandfather, has a history of giving to dental education. Ms. Hutto Gordon knows firsthand about the value of collaboration between social workers and health care professionals.
“When I first started social work school at USC in 1993, I had a professor who held positions in both the dental school and social work school, and I was fascinated by that because of my dental connection [through the foundation],” says Ms. Hutto Gordon. “I could see how important it is for dental students to have social work training and awareness—the more interchange of information, the better off all the clients end up being,” she explains. “Now I get a chance to influence this myself. My dental connection gave me the idea to establish a new, innovative interdisciplinary collaboration between the Ostrow School and School of Social Work.”
OSD USC founded its Community Oral Health Programs in the 1960s. With USC mobile and stationary dental clinics located throughout underserved communities, such as South Los Angeles and downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row, the OSD USC provides much-needed oral health services to vulnerable groups.
Seeing a need to expand services, the OSD USC and the School of Social Work teamed up in 2012 to help underprivileged children and families find trusted “dental homes” by providing oral health care and assistance in overcoming barriers to getting routine dental care.
That year, a five-year, $18.3-million grant from First 5 LA enabled the schools to start CHAMP, which travels to Head Start and Women, Infants, Children (WIC) centers throughout central Los Angeles. OSD USC clinicians participating in CHAMP screen children through the age of 5 for dental problems, administer preventive fluoride treatments and provide families with oral health education. To help families locate those dental homes where children can receive regular dental care, the CHAMP team provides referrals to the Pediatric Dental Clinic at the OSD USC and multiple community dental clinics that have become partners in this project, as well as follow-up help to ensure that families take advantage of these benefits.
Roseann Mulligan, D.D.S., M.S., CHAMP Principal Investigator, Associate Dean of Community Health Programs and Hospital Affairs, and Chair of the Division of Dental Public Health & Pediatric Dentistry at the OSD USC, says the scope of the oral health need in Los Angeles children is profound. Besides the impact on health and well-being in general, OSD USC research has shown that dental pain and illness in kids can lead to poor academic performance and is a leading cause of school absences.
“Seventy percent of underprivileged children in Los Angeles have active caries [the disease that causes dental decay] or are at risk for it,” Dr. Mulligan says. “There’s a lot of disease that can be prevented by instilling in children good oral health habits and finding them dental homes.”
Dr. Mulligan notes that the social work facets of CHAMP are valuable in facilitating more care for families beyond the initial dental screening.
“It’s not just a matter of saying to a patient, ‘You need this,’” she says. “School of Social Work team members can try to neutralize barriers and help people get the services they need.”
In the CHAMP program, USC School of Social Work M.S.W. students follow up with families, helping them understand and access dental care benefits, as well as making it easier for parents to access other resources for basic needs, ranging from food and clothing to much more serious situations such as domestic violence victim assistance.
Tory Cox, M.S.W., Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of Field Education at the School of Social Work, has worked with OSD USC in placing interns in the CHAMP program. He notes that the response from the community to having social services offered alongside dental services has been overwhelmingly positive, though the demand is getting to be almost too much for student interns to handle. The Hutto-Patterson Foundation gift will allow for more opportunities to provide care on both fronts, while also giving dental and social work students important hands-on learning.
“There are so many things that prevent people from getting the proper care that they need to get healthy,” Mr. Cox says. “Through dental care, we’re able to provide social services, and by providing those services, dental students begin to recognize the milieu families are living in.”