On Thursday, August 3rd, the dental team at HealthFinders Collaborative traveled to Normandale Community College in Bloomington to participate in the 2017 Oral Health Summit II, sponsored by the Normandale Community College, Minnesota Department of Health, and Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation. The event attracted hundreds of dental professionals from across the state. The theme of the day was the practice of integrating medical and dental care in the twenty-first century. 

As a unique and dynamic collaborative, the dental team and other HFC staff enjoyed networking with other professionals across the state. They discussed how HealthFinders has emerged as a unique practice that sustainably combines medical and dental care all under one roof. The Normandale Community College Summit II Planning Committee decided to feature HFC as the keynote speakers of the afternoon in order to present an example of how HealthFinders is at the frontier of collaborative health practices, and what it takes to breach the traditional barriers between medical and dental practices.

The keynote address began with Executive Director Charlie Mandile thanking all those in attendance for the opportunity to speak on such a promising and exciting topic. Noting the history of HealthFinders as a hybrid community health clinic with a focus on a network of advocacy partnerships, Mandile emphasized the importance of trust in relationships within the collaborative team, as well as with other health care providers in the community. These partnerships allow HealthFinders to combine a passion for improvements in health care access with sustainable action. 

A brief introduction to the roots of the HealthFinders dental team was given by Renae Blome, RDH, and Jerry Appeldoorn, DDS. Speaking to their initial decision to leave the realm of private practice and experiment with a collaborative model, both emphasized the great need for integrated medical and dental care—especially among the less privileged populations within Rice County. The dental team sees around 1,000 patients per year. Effective coordination is needed among the clinic teams to ensure efficient referrals to either medical or dental care. HFC Advanced Dental Therapist Jenny Berge, ADT, RDH, explained that our patient referral system between medical and dental care “allows us to coordinate care and our patients receive not only healthcare but total care.” As she states, “Most people are unaware that the mouth is connected to the body and needs to be healthy as well,” which is why our dental clinic is such an important part of our holistic model of care. Blome seconded this, explaining how HealthFinders had the opportunity to highlight how we “integrate medical/dental intervention, have sound partnerships, [have] built our team on trust and utilize prevention screening services for our patients with chronic diseases.”

Fausto Rodela, HealthFinders’ Dental Program Assistant, completed his math final downstairs that morning just so he would have the opportunity to represent HealthFinders at this event. Rodela is actually going to Dental Hygiene school, a passion that was fed by his experience here at HFC. He and Berge discussed the logistical concerns of what a day in the life looks like for a collaborative dental professional. It was clear that trust and respect among members of the team, as well as the physical combination of both medical and dental care under one roof, is paramount to their success in serving the high-risk populations of Rice County. Additionally, Community Health Worker Raquel Rendon was able to share some of her experiences in the homes of community members. Her testimony to the effectiveness of personalized care delivered by the passionate members of the dental team and herself elicited audible gasps of amazement and “overwhelming affirmation” from those in attendance, and a round of applause. 

The importance of a strong positive presence in the communities that HealthFinders serves was also highlighted as a key to success. Without investing in long-term trusting relationships with community members, the work that HealthFinders does would not be sustainable. In that respect, as the State of Minnesota looks forward to the future of oral health in our state, it will certainly find inspiration from the progress the HealthFinders dental team has made. As Berge states, “HealthFinders is proud to be the 21st Century Dental Team. Integrating both medical and dental services just makes sense and has improved the way we deliver care.”