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A collaboration between Wheeler and Harc, Inc., a Hartford-based non-profit that serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), will continue for another year, thanks to a new, one-year $50,000 S.M.I.L.E. Grant from the Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation.

In January 2020, utilizing the resources of a $50,000 S.M.I.L.E. grant from Delta Dental, Wheeler and Harc, Inc. teamed up on a unique project to meet the oral health needs of this medically underserved population in Hartford and to serve low-income residents of all ages with IDD, including autism. Services are delivered through Wheeler’s Susan Walkama Family Health & Wellness Center at 43 Woodland Street and through specialized linkages to care in the community.

“The pandemic had a significant impact on the number of dental patients we could serve during the past year-and-a-half, as well as the outreach we could provide, particularly because our target population is a high-risk population for COVID-19,” said Sabrina Trocchi, PhD, MPA, president and chief executive officer, Wheeler. “This new funding will support our efforts to do even more outreach and serve more individuals with IDD and autism because the need is greater than ever.

“Our Hartford community health center is uniquely suited to serve individuals with IDD, as our patient-centered behavioral health and primary care services, trauma-sensitive dental operatory, and strict health and safety protocols are already firmly in place,” Trocchi added.

“We believe everyone deserves a healthy smile, and we are delighted to continue supporting Wheeler as they work to expand access to dental care for those with IDD,” said Caryl Russo, PhD, president, Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation. “Our Foundation seeks to fund solutions to oral health care challenges throughout New Jersey and Connecticut, and Wheeler, through their collaboration with Harc, is admirably focused on providing a much-needed solution for those with special health care needs.”

“We’re so excited to continue our consulting partnership with Wheeler’s dental team to maximize the effectiveness of the program through education and engagement,” said Ken Cabral, MEd, president and ceo of Harc. “This collaboration, funded by Delta Dental, allows us to reach the IDD community to affect positive outcomes with their dental health.”

The Wheeler-Harc Dental Collaboration includes consultation and training for Wheeler dental staff; review and implementation of practice enhancements; outreach, and coordination. Harc provides consultation and training for Wheeler’s dental team to foster engagement and understanding of the unique needs of this population and how best to deliver services, including, but not limited to, trauma-sensitive dental care, and extended visits. Patients’ family members are eligible to participate in training by helping to provide a patient perspective, as well as assisting Harc with training Wheeler staff.

This program includes the development of targeted marketing and resources for members of this community and their families, delivered across several channels, including social media, to raise awareness of services. Consumer care is aided by supplies that enhance patient comfort, including adaptive dental tools, body supports, headphones, and more. Linkages to and engagement of additional dental professionals also are part of this effort.

As part of this collaboration, Harc trained Wheeler community health center front desk staff, as well as the center’s practice manager, medical assistant supervisor, and dental team to foster a greater understanding of intellectual disabilities, the care environment, approaches to patient-centered interactions, and scheduling appointments. The trainings highlighted care strategies for children with special needs and autism spectrum disorder, aging adults with IDD, and other considerations.

The Need
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, individuals with intellectual disabilities have an array of challenges that require additional support in maintaining oral health. This population is more likely to have tooth decay, periodontal disease, damaging oral health habits such as clenching, and other potentially harmful oral health conditions. The need for services for the IDD population is significant in the Greater Hartford region, where individuals often wait upwards of two years to receive oral health
care under sedation.

Delta Dental of New Jersey

Delta Dental of New Jersey is New Jersey’s leading dental benefits company, providing or administering coverage to more than 1.8 million people through contracts with groups in New Jersey and Connecticut. In Connecticut, Delta Dental of Connecticut, Inc. is a licensed insurer that writes dental coverage on an insured basis, and Delta Dental of New Jersey administers self-funded dental benefit programs. In 1986, Delta Dental established the Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, charitable organization, which supports projects and programs that increase access to dental care and education for children, developmentally disabled persons, seniors, and veterans. Its mission is to improve the oral health of New Jersey and Connecticut residents by providing charitable contributions to solve oral health care challenges.

Wheeler and Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation
Since January 2018, through S.M.I.L.E. Grant funding, the Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation has supported Wheeler’s efforts to meet the oral health needs of Hartford’s medically underserved population through its community health center at 43 Woodland Street.
Delta Dental helped fund the initial-year launch of Wheeler’s Hartford Family Health & Wellness Center Dental Program, as well as consultation, outreach efforts, and related collateral materials. Funding for this project continued in 2019. The grant funds also allowed for the purchase of age-appropriate toothbrushes, toothpaste, and coloring books promoting preventative dental care for children. In January 2020, Delta Dental supported the initial collaboration between Wheeler and Harc, Inc. through a one-year $50,000 S.M.I.L.E. Grant to meet the oral health needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in Hartford.

Harc, Inc.

Harc was founded in 1951 by visionary parents of children with intellectual disabilities who knew that their children had worth and immense possibilities. They became fierce advocates fighting against exclusion, isolation, discrimination, lack of opportunity, unemployment and low expectations. Their grassroots efforts led to partnerships with generous individuals and corporations to raise funds and create life-changing programs. Today, Harc provides special needs support for a lifetime. Services begin at the birth of a child and support them throughout their life journey.

 Harc’s mission is to provide support for a lifetime to individuals with intellectual and related disabilities and their families so they may enjoy lives of quality, inclusion, and dignity. 

 Wheeler Family Health & Wellness Centers
Wheeler’s Family Health & Wellness Centers in Bristol, Hartford, New Britain, Plainville, and Waterbury offer integrated primary care and behavioral health care, addiction treatment, and complementary approaches to care.

 Wheeler’s Family Health & Wellness Centers are funded in part by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an operating division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 Wheeler is a Health Center Program grantee under 42 U.S.C. 254b and a deemed Public Health Service employee under 42 U.S.C. 233(g)-(n).

 Medicaid, Medicare, and commercial health insurance welcome. No patient will be denied health care services due to an individual’s inability to pay for services. Improvements to the Family Health & Wellness Center in Hartford are supported in part by the State of Connecticut Nonprofit Grant Program, the Connecticut Health & Educational Facilities Authority, the Maximilian E. and Marion O. Hoffman Foundation, and the Ensworth Charitable Foundation. Additional support is provided by Delta Dental of New Jersey Foundation.