O'Malley Announces Children's Dental Care Advances - Southern Maryland Headline News

O'Malley Announces Children's Dental Care Advances


By JENN BOGDAN

LARGO (Nov. 13, 2008)—When 12-year-old Deamonte Driver died last February from what began as an untreated toothache, Gov. Martin O'Malley said it was a moment of "personal shame for the people of Maryland."

Thursday, the governor joined with health care advocates, practitioners and other officials in what they called a celebration, announcing strides made in the name of children's dental health care in Maryland, including a mobile dental clinic bearing Driver's name.

"There is no way to ever be able to call out the names of the little boys and little girls whose lives will be spared because of the way this tragedy in your son's life inspired us to come together," said O'Malley, addressing Driver's mother.

Driver, a Prince George's County child, died of an untreated infection that spread from a tooth to his brain. Driver's family, who did not have health insurance, was unable to find a dentist who would treat him.

The state-funded mobile office for Prince George's County, named the Deamonte Driver Dental Project, will visit nine local schools in an effort to screen and treat low-income and underserved children needing dental care. The project comes with a $288,000 price tag for its first year of services.

The director of the dental project, Hazel Harper, said she hopes the new initiative will serve to increase awareness of the link between dental health and general health. She also wants the program to become a model for the nation.

Members of a dental action committee appointed by the governor announced that 90 new dentists in Maryland have signed up to be Medicaid dental providers.

The state devoted $14 million in the fiscal year 2009 budget, following recommendations of the dental action committee, to raise reimbursement rates for dentists treating children with Medicaid coverage.

Prior to the change, many dentists would not treat Medicaid patients because compensation rates for care were so low.

At the event, O'Malley was presented with an award recognizing his personal efforts aimed at improving children's dental health care, but he was quick to downplay the accolades.

"With all due respect and gratitude for the award, this is not the time to shoot off the confetti canons," said O'Malley, who noted that 300,000 Maryland children are still waiting to receive the dental care they need.

The day's most personal announcement came when one official said that Alyce Driver, Deamonte Driver's mother, graduated from the dental assistant program at Prince George's Community College Wednesday.

Afterward, a tearful and nearly speechless Alyce Driver was proud so much progress had been made in her son's name.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

Press release from Gov. O'Malley

GOVERNOR O’MALLEY ANNOUNCES DEAMONTE DRIVER DENTAL PROJECT

New Partnership to Improve Dental Health Care for Children

LARGO, Md. (November 13, 2008) – Governor Martin O’Malley, joined by Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers and members of the Dental Action Committee, today announced that work is underway to acquire a mobile van that will provide dental services to children in Prince George’s County and surrounding areas. This service, known as the Deamonte Driver Dental Project, is named after a 12-year-old Prince George’s County youth who died from a dental infection in 2007.

“Together, we have resolved to do everything within our power to prevent avoidable tragedies like the loss of Deamonte Driver, who passed away when an untreated toothache spread to his brain,” said Governor O’Malley. “That’s why today, we’re announcing the start of the ‘Deamonte Driver Dental Project,’ which will make oral health services available to Medicaid-eligible and uninsured children in Prince George’s County and throughout the region. Through this project, we’ll be able to reach out to kids just like Deamonte, ensuring that they will not be turned away from routine but potentially life-saving care.”

The Deamonte Driver Dental Project is a grassroots endeavor of the Robert T. Freeman Dental Society Foundation, a professional association comprised of African-American dentists from Prince George’s County and Washington, DC, and a partnership between Governor O’Malley, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the Maryland General Assembly.

The goal of this school-based mobile van project is to target nine schools in Prince George’s County and surrounding areas in order to identify Medicaid-eligible and other low-income and underserved children in need of dental care. The nine schools that will be served are: the Foundation School (Prince George’s County), the Foundation School (Montgomery County), Adelphi Elementary, District Heights Elementary, Morningside Elementary, William Beanes Elementary, Seat Pleasant Elementary, Concord Elementary, and Mathew Henson Elementary. Children will be provided with diagnostic, preventive, and simple restorative dental services on the van. For those children who cannot be treated on the mobile van, the Project coordinators have enlisted local dentists to provide services in their private offices.

“Governor O’Malley has provided important leadership to improve access to dental care for children,” Secretary Colmers said. “Even in these challenging fiscal times, children’s dental care is a need that must be addressed and we have started to do so. This mobile van is one way we can reach into neighborhoods where services are most needed.”

In response to the untimely death of Deamonte Driver in February 2007, Governor O’Malley, Secretary Colmers and the General Assembly convened a Dental Action Committee in June of 2007 to provide recommendations for Maryland to improve its oral health services. Based upon the Committee’s recommendations, Governor O’Malley put $14 million in the FY09 budget, in state and federal funds, to raise reimbursement rates for dentists treating Medicaid children. The funds target all preventative care and most diagnostic care rates. In addition, Governor O’Malley placed $2 million in his FY09 budget to the Office of Oral Health to initiate and expand dental services in underserved areas in the State, such as the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, and to create a mobile school-based screening and treatment center, such as the project announced today.

The funds also helped to expand public dental health service programs in Charles and Harford counties earlier this year. Additional funds were awarded to Calvert, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Worcester counties to initiate new dental programs.

This project has support from community partners including the Howard University College of Dentistry, the University of Maryland School of Public Health and Dental School, Morgan State University, local practicing dentists, and many civic organizations and church groups.

In addition to the expansion of dental benefits, earlier this year, Governor O’Malley signed into law landmark legislation that expands medical coverage to more than 100,000 uninsured Marylanders, and also signed legislation that provides prescription drug assistance for thousands of Maryland’s seniors, by helping close the coverage gap in the federal government’s Medicare Part D prescription drug program, known as the “donut hole.”

More information about the Dental Action Committee recommendations is available at the DHMH Office of Oral Health website (http://www.fha.state.md.us/oralhealth/)

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