2021 Year in Review

2021 was quite the year!

Of course, we could write an entire book about the ways that COVID-19 continues to impact people’s daily lives, not to mention the incredible strain that the pandemic is still placing on all facets of our health care system. Back in January, we certainly had high hopes that we were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. But the struggle continues.

Fortunately, the shadow of COVID-19 didn’t stop our progress. The NCOHC team and our incredible network of partners and fellow advocates had a productive year, and North Carolina was able to take significant steps toward greater access and equity in oral health care.

Legislative Progress

Early in the year, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 193, authorizing dentists to join the COVID-19 vaccination effort.

In July, Session Law 2021-95 was enacted, codifying teledentistry in the North Carolina Dental Practice Act and authorizing hygienist-administered local anesthesia. The law also aligned regulations, allowing hygienists to deliver preventive care more efficiently in community settings. No less significant, for the first time, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) were recognized in state law.

More recently, the state budget passed in November included an extension of the North Carolina Medicaid for Pregnant Women (MPW) program, expanding health benefits — including those for oral health — to birthing parents up to one year postpartum.

We are thrilled to have been a part of a productive 2021 legislative session. This year was certainly a testament to the power of collaboration. If we were to thank everyone involved individually, this blog post would easily turn into a novel. The North Carolina Dental Society, however, deserves recognition for its partnership in co-creating lasting change. So does Senator Jim Perry, who filed Senate Bill 146 (now Session Law 2021-95) in the North Carolina Senate and worked hard to ensure its passage.

Oral Health Day 2021

This year’s Oral Health Day was a spectacular success!

Rear Admiral Timothy L. Ricks DMD, MPH, FICD, Assistant Surgeon General and Chief Dental Officer of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS), joined NCOHC to give the keynote address. RADM Ricks covered everything from what the USPHS is and the work that the agency does, to the state of COVID-19 progress on equity in the dental world, and more.

Amy Martin, DrPH, MSPH, who chairs the Department of Stomatology and directs the Division of Population Oral Health at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), also joined Oral Health Day to discuss the innovative ways that MUSC is approaching community-based oral health care in South Carolina.

Finally, William Donigan, DDS, MPH, and Melissa Boughman, RDH, spoke about Kintegra Health’s experience employing patient navigators. Kintegra Health has been on the forefront of innovations in care coordination and case management, and Dr. Donigan and Ms. Boughman provided great insight into the benefits of these care models.

Staff Growth

Have we said that 2021 was a busy year? With all the work on NCOHC’s plate, it was past time for the team to grow. This year, we welcomed two new full-time staff members — Sarah Heenan and Crystal Adams.

Sarah joined the NCOHC team back in April as our new program coordinator, and Crystal came onboard in September as our associate director.

And So Much More…

The reality is, there are just too many highlights to fit into a single blog post. Check out some of the videos we published this year, especially this one about the NCOHC Teledentistry Fund and this one, where we envision a “more perfect oral health ecosystem.” And don’t forget to peruse a year’s worth of updates, storytelling, and analysis on our blog!

No Slowing Down

While 2021 was a year to remember, we are sure that 2022 will bring even more advances in oral health access in equity across North Carolina. NCOHC has some big news to share very soon, and we are so excited to include you in the next phase of the work!

NCOHC, a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, works to advance systems-level changes, improving the overall health and well-being of all North Carolinians by increasing access and equity in care. To stay up-to-date and get involved, join us today as a North Carolinian for Change.