Do you enjoy visiting the dentist? Who does, right?
When I chat with dentists they tell me that their practice suffers during a recession. Why is that? Well, good dental care costs money and many patients are driven to cut costs in a recession and one of the things that often goes is a trip (or many trips) to the dentist. After all, your teeth won't kill you, right?
Well your teeth are very close to your brain and that isn't really where you want problems. Also teeth deteriorate if they are not looked after so a short term saving may cost you more, both monetarily and physically than you realize.
Now imagine you are homeless. Almost by definition you won't have a dentist to whom you can go. Even if your lifestyle doesn't include teeth-destroying habits like using meth, your teeth will deteriorate and that can be a painful and health-threatening occurrence. These are the patients we serve and the demand is immense - more than we can cover.
Once we have taken out any teeth that are beyond repair, we also have a denture program for those who will benefit from having them fitted in the long term. Think about how bad it is to have a toothache, now imagine living on the street with that for months on end.
Dental issues are huge for the homeless. We are glad to help but there is a lot to do!
Planning is moving forward for the DR mission in 2018. We will be running a two centered mission (surgery in La Vega, Primary care in Constanza) from May 26th to June 6th.
Since the last major trip in May 2017 we have been working with our local partners to develop a program that will include surgery, primary care and dental with an emphasis on providing sustainable care to those we are committed to serve in this wonderful country.
Are you interested in being a part of this, or future missions? We will be traveling from Kansas City and from Boston and the travel arrangements are reasonably flexible. We have a lot of planning still to do but please CONTACT US if you are interested in finding our more!
We talk a lot about our sustainability initiatives and what that means for those we serve. However the importance of partnerships in achieving these ends cannot be overstated.
There is a danger in all things of trying to do too much, or reinventing the wheel and chasing bright shiny objects. This is certainly true of many nonprofits who aspire to do "good works" wherever that may take them. Often times this leads us out of our area of expertise and developing programs in areas in which we are inexpert is a recipe for inefficiency at best and potential harm or waste at worst.
We learned this the hard way. We have made mistakes and tried to reinvent the wheel and this has moved us into areas where we haven't been as effective as we would have liked. We do many things well but those things revolve around our medical teams. The value in the long term comes from finding local partners on the ground who can work with us, carry on the initiatives when we leave, keep in contact and play to their strengths.
It sounds obvious but often times organizations try to do to much when there are others that are better placed to help than we are. This takes work. Especially when we travel overseas, there is a lot of groundwork that needs to take place before anyone sets foot in country and the partnerships need continual work and sharing of resources and goals. The same is true with our closer-to-home activities at the homeless clinic. We will return to this theme in the near future with some specific examples but this is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons we have learned as a Foundation.
The above is a video providing a basic explanation of telemedicine, which is a new initiative we are committed to implementing both with our homeless clinics and also, in due course, overseas. Although the above information is not primarily aimed at the nonprofit sector, there are many advantages for us in what we strive to do to help our clients.
1. Regularity of service - it is important to have regular clinic hours so that our patients know when they can be seen. This can be difficult when the schedules of volunteers are challenging and knowing that there will always to telemedicine available, allows for easier planning and more important, improved patient service
2. Quality of service - health is not always (in fact is almost never!) predictable! Having availability of telehealth services allows us to see, diagnose and treat patients far sooner than if they had to await the physical presence of a doctor in the clinic
3. Range of treatments - effective telehealth is not just about "seeing" patients online. We are able to carry out a consultation, write prescriptions to be picked up locally, order tests and lab work as well as organize referrals where necessary. All of these support the actual online consultation and allow the patient to be treated much faster
4. Easier for the patient - let's face it, none of us particularly like having to wait around in a surgery space especially in the winter where we may be exposed to flu bugs etc. while we wait. With telemedicine patients can benefit from seeing a physician from a "home" location and avoid these issues. As we have mentioned before, WOFKC is dedicated to providing access to healthcare resources - being able to access a physician online goes a long way to achieving that.
Watch this space for more information on our telemedicine solutions!
What do we mean by "sustainability" when we discuss our strategies and programs?
Over the years we have been running Medical Missions, it became clear that, for all the good works and the positive impacts on individuals, many of those efforts were transitory. When an organization carries out a one off mission, there is very limited opportunity to provide positive impact after the mission team has departed. There is a risk of being seen as a "fly in, fly out" service provider.
Not wishing to minimize the impact of such missions, we nevertheless wished to provide our patients with longer term help and this sustainability element is now incorporated into all that we do. This means that when we look for overseas mission opportunities we are looking to partner with local agencies and individuals over a 3-5 year period so we can return to the same spot, assess the impact that is being made, make changes and additions where necessary and impact the health of the local population over a long period.
How do we do so?
These are just some of the measures that allow us to positively impact the lives of our patients in the medium to long term. Of course, we also address surgical and immediate needs as we always have, but we are committed to this long term sustainability.
Next post will consider how sustainability drives our homeless programs in Kansas City.
As a result of fundraising in 2016 and 2017, we were able to afford the equipment to completely outfit a dental space at our partners premises at 3006 Tracy - operated by Artists Helping the Homeless. Thanks to the dedication of our dentists, hygienists and administrative volunteers, we are able to offer a weekly clinic at both Artists Helping the Homleless and also Hope Faith Ministries.
It took a lot of generous donations to fund this space for which we are extremely thankful. We are always looking for more volunteers so that we can use the space even more. This space also includes a medical examination room and we will cover that further in future posts. Thank you to all who donate! More stories to follow of the good we are able to do as a result.
WOFKC has been working with the homeless community since 2013 with a goal of providing healthcare services to those who lack daily access to such services. When we started we really had no idea what we were going to find and the 4 years plus since we launched the service, have been very educational. It is thanks to those who partner with us (especially Hope Faith Ministries and Artists Helping the Homeless) and most notably our generous donors, that we have managed to expand our services as we learn more about the needs here in Kansas City.
It seems appropriate to set down on this blog, some of the things we have learned that may not be immediately apparent to everyone - they certainly weren't to us when we started!
So over the coming days and weeks I will try and outline some of the challenges faced by our clients, and how you have helped us over the years and continue to do so.
The history of the Foundation is one of medical missions. We have been involved, in one way or another, with providing overseas medical missions. We continue to provide these services in the Philippines and Dominican Republic (more on those in following blog posts). However we had not really thought about the key issues that prevented people from accessing healthcare services and that applied to our initial set up of the homeless clinics.
To say it is access to healthcare, or lack thereof, that causes the problems is to state the obvious. However there are so many reasons causing that. Overseas it is usually a combination of lack of medical resources in rural areas, usually down to lack of investment in medical infrastructure but also tough local geography, sparsely populated areas, poor communication links and many other factors. Poverty and money issues are obviously at the root of all that, either individually or at a government level.
In the US the underlying causes are maybe less obvious but basically similar. Lack of money to get to a doctor is obviously huge but the administrative hoops necessary to sign up with a doc, find medicare solutions etc. are all there too. For many, the Emergency Room ends us as both the primary care and the last resort. Although ERs cannot turn anyone away, they are not geared up to provide ongoing care and eventually, the costs they inevitably incur must fall somewhere.
This is not the place to try and resolve such ingrained societal issues but our goal is to provide that frontline care and, perhaps more importantly, help people navigate into the system that is there for them in many cases, if they can just get on the radar screen. This is why sustainability is so important and is something for which we strive.
These are big, big issues, not easily addressed but they will be the theme underlying all future activities we undertake as a Foundation and also the subjects of this blog in the future.
I am Jerry Smith, Executive Director of WOFKC. I will use this blog to bring to attention activities of the Foundation of which you may not be aware - hopefully there will be some enlightenment and entertainment herein! Please get in touch to learn more.