By Vanetta Abdellatif, President and CEO, Arcora Foundation, the Foundation of Delta Dental of Washington
All across the country, dedicated public health professionals are working tirelessly to help stem the COVID-19 pandemic. They deserve our thanks and heartfelt appreciation. I’ve been involved in public health for nearly 30 years, most recently as CEO of the Community Health Centers in Multnomah County (Portland), Oregon and now as President and CEO of Arcora Foundation. In these roles, I've learned it’s important to raise awareness about why public health is absolutely essential … now and always.
The concept of “public health” is a focus on preventing disease and protecting the health of the entire population. It is the reason for the social distancing steps most of us have been taking.
One lasting legacy of this pandemic may be a new appreciation of the importance of public health. This includes a heightened awareness that we are all “in this together,” and a much greater emphasis on preventing disease and devoting resources toward improving everyone’s health, with no one left behind.
This would be a new approach in the United States. Historically, our healthcare system has focused on treating disease after it has occurred, rather than preventing disease before it starts. Much of the trillions of dollars spent on healthcare each year goes toward unnecessary clinical care, and developing new, expensive tests and costly pharmaceuticals. If you are lucky enough to have easy access to care, you might think these dollars are well spent.
However, lower-income people and communities of color often do not have insurance or their insurance may not cover some of the more expensive treatments and medications. Too often health status is determined in large part by where you live and your income. As a result, there are huge health disparities in our country. That needs to change.
For example, more than 56 million Americans live in "dental deserts," areas with severe shortages of dental health professionals. Oral health affects overall health and the ability to get or keep a job. Dental problems often start out small, but can quickly become more difficult and expensive to treat. Yet, if everyone had access to dental care and more people received the benefits of community water fluoridation, many oral health problems could be prevented, saving money and improving health.
COVID-19 is a crucial reminder that we really are “in this together.” That is why health equity should be a national priority ‑‑ because we all benefit when everyone in our community is healthy.
About Arcora Foundation
Arcora Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to improving oral health and health equity by partnering with communities to prevent oral disease, transform health systems, and increase access to care. Funded by nonprofit Delta Dental of Washington, the state’s largest dental benefits company, Arcora Foundation works toward a shared vision: All people enjoy good oral and overall health, with no one left behind. For more information, visit ArcoraFoundation.org.