The Road Taken

November 30, 2015

Today’s post is by Geralynn McGee, health equity fellow at Greater Hartford Legal Aid

geralynn mcgee

My path always included advocacy for underserved populations, such as adults with mental illness, women recently released from incarceration, and women in recovery from substance abuse.  After six years of this type of important community advocacy, I decided to add to my tools to help underserved populations and challenge myself academically. I went to law school.

During my last year in law school, career services posted a job announcement for a health equity fellow with a focus on oral health.  The job announcement described a two year fellowship with Greater Hartford Legal Aid, in partnership with the Connecticut Health Foundation, with the purpose of gaining leadership knowledge and skills on how policy change and advocacy can be used to effectively advance oral health equity.  In plain language, “health equity” means ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities to be healthy.

As a law student you expect that the trajectory of your career will be roughly the following:  finally finish law school, graduate, pass the bar, begin your career as a new associate at a firm.  However, while loosely related to the law, policy advocacy is not the same as practicing law.  Similar to the narrator in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” I had two paths before me.  I chose the health equity fellowship.

During this two-year fellowship, I will work in rotations with five organizations in Connecticut that have a demonstrated track record in promoting oral health.  My efforts to increase awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health will provide a focused lens through which I can better understand health care delivery systems, payment systems, and health inequities.

Fresh off my first rotation with the Community Health Centers Association of Connecticut (CHCACT), my assignment involved interviewing dental directors in the Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) across the state to uncover their sense of access and utilization barriers for their patients. Interestingly, dental directors cited low prioritization of oral health care as the primary barrier to utilization of services. They also cited the following barriers:

Patient Factors

  • Difficulty adhering to follow-up care
  • Low oral health literacy
  • Lack of childcare
  • Transportation challenges
  • Cost of care for those who lack dental insurance (i.e. sliding scale affordability)

Health System Factors

  • Workforce obstacles (i.e., availability of specialty providers, attracting providers to rural areas)
  • What’s covered.  While Connecticut Medicaid includes dental benefits for children and adults, not all dental services are covered.
  • Administrative difficulty with prior authorizations
  • Divide between medicine and dentistry

As a follow-up to the interviews, I created a report that considers three categories of strategies: legislative, administrative, and grassroots advocacy. The next step is to establish an FQHC Oral Health Advocacy Corps, composed of FQHC board members and staff, to implement the strategies of the report as champions for whole person care that includes oral health.

Much like the narrator in “The Road Not Taken,” I expect that I’ll look back on the decision to take this fellowship as a defining moment, not only for the path that I chose, but the work that will result from this choice.

Stay tuned for a future blog post summarizing my assignment with the Connecticut State Dental Association.

 

14 Responses to The Road Taken

  1. Geralynn this is a great blog post about your new work as an oral health fellow to promote and support health equity. Thanks for sharing these important and helpful findings from your work with CHCACT. I look forward to hearing about your next rotation at CSDA and the rest of your future work.

  2. Geralynn McGee says:

    Thank you Yolanda!

  3. Brandon McGee says:

    Geralynn, thank you for sharing. Your blog post explains your commitment to those underserved as well as the importance of leveraging passion and purpose to advance a worthy cause. Keep going and great work!

  4. Geralynn McGee says:

    Thank you Brandon! Thanks for always giving me the push I need. 🙂

  5. Shenita Covington Gooch says:

    Great job Geralynn, thanks for sharing your thoughts and views. Your blog has given me the encouragement and motivation to press harder to be an advocate for those to that are underseveved as well in the NC area. I can’t wait to see the results of your great works.

  6. Geralynn McGee says:

    Thanks for your comment Shenita 🙂 I’m rooting for you!

  7. Lynn says:

    Mrs. McGee thank you for this information which is what we as people need to read to get a better understanding about how important out health is rather it be oral, mental or physical. Keep it the good work will be following you.

  8. Rhonda Renee Jackson says:

    Geralynn,
    I am so proud of you and the accomplishments you have made. You already know I am a silent supporters of U. Looking for to bigger and better opportunities for U.

  9. Selma HIl says:

    So proud of you and the work you do. You have always had a big heart for and desire to help those who are left behind for whatever the reasons. Your hard work has and will continue to broaden the road you have taken.

  10. Jeannine Scarborough says:

    Very enlightening and informative! So proud of you! Continue to be blessed and encouraged in your endeavours!

  11. Geralynn McGee says:

    Thank you all for your support. I look forward to sharing more with you about efforts to improve Connecticut’s health!

  12. Insightful, life-changing work has many twists and turns, but yield a wealthy return when results floodlight, raise awareness, and create practical steps to address issues that plague our communities. Your path traveled is inspirational and reminds us that we have the created power to touch and enhance the quality of life for others. Fantastic!

  13. JILL QUAST, RDH says:

    GERALYNN MCGEE, I INVITE YOU TO FIND SOME TIME TO SPEND WITH US IN THE HARTFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS DENTAL PROGRAM SO YOU CAN WITNESS FIRST HAND THE EXCELLENT DENTAL CARE WE DELIVER TO THE SCHOOL CHILDREN OF HARTFORD. WE ARE A FRONT LINE IN SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF ACCESS TO QUALITY DENTAL CARE FOR THE UNDERSERVED CHILDREN OF OUR CITY; ITS A BEAUTIFUL THING! CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR CAREER PATH CHOICE.

  14. Geralynn McGee says:

    Hi Jill, I would love to do that. I have your email address and will contact you shortly. Thanks!

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