VCU researchers contribute to Virginia Health Catalyst Summit
On Friday, October 7, Virginia Health Catalyst held their annual summit at the Westin Hotel in Richmond, VA. The event brought together organizations and individuals from around the state who share a responsibility and commitment to advancing equity in oral health. The theme was “building community, improving health,” and representatives from VCU School of Dentistry as well as VCU iCubed oral health researchers from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU and VCU Libraries were among those who participated, presented and helped lead breakout sessions.
Following breakfast and opening remarks, VCU iCubed researcher and Assistant Professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Sarah Raskin, Ph.D., M.P.H., was joined by research collaborator Eleanor Fleming, Ph.D., D.D.S., M.P.H., from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, to present “An Action Agenda on Racial Equity in Health.” The dynamic duo talked about their online connection in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that led to a productive research partnership centered on advancing oral health equity. Their presentation challenged participants to consider how their organizations consider equity in four key areas: service delivery, workforce education, research science and policy and advocacy.
The afternoon session was comprised of smaller breakout sessions in which participants chose to attend discussions centered on specific oral health issues affecting the state. Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Ethics Curriculum Carlos Smith, D.D.S., M.Div., presented with VCU iCubed student researcher and Wilder School graduate Jenifer Euceda Nunez on barriers to oral health beyond insurance coverage. Nunez presented findings from an iCubed research study in which she, Raskin and other collaborators surveyed Spanish-speaking patients at Crossover Healthcare Ministry in an attempt to understand why disparities exist in the utilization of available dental care services despite efforts to address them. She talked about her experience as the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student before exploring findings from the research study showing factors such as communications practices, culture and even religion can have an impact on people’s adherence to preventive dental care.
Following Nunez, Smith challenged participants to reflect on the ways in which their organizations approach solutions to health equity. He focused on the impacts of leadership, and how ethically practiced leadership advances health equity. Smith emphasized the importance of empathy and being able to view situations from multiple perspectives, understanding one’s own biases and gaps in knowledge and the courage needed to break out of your comfort zone to seek new solutions to entrenched problems.
In a separate room, Shillpa Naavaal, B.D.S., M.S., M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Dental Public Health and Policy at VCU School of Dentistry, participated in a breakout session titled: Healthcare Workforce Trends, Challenges, and Solutions. Her collaborator, Yetty Shobo, Ph.D., deputy director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions Healthcare Workforce Data Center, presented their work examining trends in the dental workforce in Virginia. They examined changes in age, race, ethnicity, gender and geographic distribution of oral health providers in the past 10 years and discussed current and future opportunities for improving the spread and distribution in our state.
In addition to Smith, Nunez, Naavaal and Raskin, Michelle McGregor, R.D.H., director of community and collaborative partnerships at VCU School of Dentistry, Tegwyn Brickhouse, D.D.S., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Dental Public Health and Policy at VCU School of Dentistry, Lyndon Cooper, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of VCU School of Dentistry, and Erica Brody, M.P.H., M.S.L.S., assistant professor and research and education librarian at VCU Libraries and iCubed researcher, attended the summit and participated in the various discussions and breakout sessions that occurred throughout the day.
“While many of today’s participants engage with each other on a regular basis as we collaborate on a variety of research and community-based projects, this event brings us all together in a way that spurs collaboration and creative solutions,” said Brickhouse, who is also the vice chair of the Virginia Health Catalyst Board of Directors. “The work is not easy and the progress is often slow, but we will continue to draw inspiration from each other as well as the communities that we serve.”