Ten years ago, as dean of the School of Dental and Oral Surgery (SDOS), I started receiving letters from Washington Heights school principals telling me their students were suffering from toothaches and that there were few places in the community where they could receive oral health services. About the same time, the Harlem Prevention Center conducted a survey of households in the community that showed access to oral health care was the No.1 healthcare access problem.
These two things got me thinking that as a major educational center, responsible for training the next generation of dentists, part of our mission should include helping to improve access. With our affiliates at Harlem Hospital Dental Services and Alianza Dominicana, we began to talk about what we could do. We thought if we put our heads together, we could somehow bring more dental services to the community and especially to children.
These conversations led us to develop a new system of dental care for the neighborhoods, with an emphasis on providing preventive care in New York City public schools. With an initial grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and a partnership with the Mailman School of Public Health school-based clinic programs, in 1994 we began the Community DentCare program. The Community DentCare Network now encompasses seven school-based clinics, a Mobile Dental Centerworking with the Children's Aid Societyand five community-based practices located throughout northern Manhattan.
The SDOS subsequently received another Kellogg grant to develop one of its 13 Community Voices: Health Care for the Underserved learning laboratories. For the past five years the Northern Manhattan Community Voices Collaborative has worked in the Washington Heights/Inwood and Harlem communities to develop a coordinated system of care, address major service gap areas, and organize preventive programs for all segments of the community. The collaborative also has tackled some of the most challenging health issues we facehow to improve mental health services in the community and insure individuals working in small businesses.
In 2001, the Community DentCare Network acted as a catalyst for another programa five-year $19 million national program of the Robert Wood Johnson FoundationPipeline, Profession & Practice: Community-Based Dental Education. Acting as the National Program Office, Columbia was asked to oversee the direction and technical assistance of the program. In September, 10 dental schools across the nation received funding to establish community-based clinical education programs; revise their curricula to integrate cultural competency training; and implement initiatives to increase the enrollment of underrepresented minority and low-income students.
Upon leaving the SDOS deanship in October 2001, after 23 years, it was my dream to concentrate on the service aspects of the Health Sciences mission. With strong encouragement from the university and the Health Sciences leadership, in 2002 we created the Center for Community Health Partnerships (CCHP). We started CCHP with high hopes. It originally consisted of the Kellogg-funded Community Voices Collaborative and the RWJF-funded "Dental Pipeline" program. Today, CCHP has 14 full-time staff and five programs working together with communities to reduce healthcare disparities. I am amazed at our growth and accomplishments over the past year.
Last July, in collaboration with the SDOS and P&S, we opened the Thelma C. Davidson Adair Medical and Dental Center, a primary care facility in the Mannie L. Wilson Towers on West 124 Street and Manhattan Avenue. The center provides medical and dental care, with an emphasis on the elderly and their families.
In February, CCHP received a $6 million grant from the NIH to establish a research center on minority health and health disparities. The interdisciplinary centerthe Columbia Center for the Health of Urban Minorities (CHUM)will focus on identifying ways in which access to care shapes racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare use and outcomes. CHUM will collaborate with community-based organizations to make sure research is conducted with the community rather than on or for the community. CCHP also received a $6.3 million grant from the California Endowment to add four dental schools to the "Dental Pipeline" program.
CCHP also has launched a new monthly seminar series highlighting important community related healthcare issues. These seminars have focused on racial/ethnic disparities and cross cultural care, healthy choices, covering the uninsured and mental health.
Our next step is to begin work with the many new faculty and students interested in our core mission, connecting them to service opportunities within communities. We also are working with Health Sciences to better understand how cultural competency training can be made part of the education of students and residents to better serve patients with diverse backgrounds.
What stands out so far is the great talent and dedication of faculty and staff on our campus and their desire to work collaboratively with an equally dynamic northern Manhattan community. Together we can make an enormous difference.
Allan J. Formicola, DDS, is the vice dean for the Center for Community Health Partnerships and former dean of the School of Dental and Oral Surgery.