SAN DIEGO, CA – Oct. 5, 2016 – Poor oral health is a significant public health issue for seniors in San Diego and across the nation. To address this critical need, philanthropists Gary and Mary West today announced the grand opening of the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, a nonprofit community dental center dedicated to serving low-income seniors in San Diego. The Senior Dental Center links high-quality and affordable oral healthcare with a suite of nutrition, case management and wellness services offered at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, creating a one-of-a-kind, integrated community-based system of care for older adults.
“Poor oral healthcare is a big problem for seniors in our community and all across the country. It’s a hidden and growing epidemic that requires great attention and urgent action,” said Gary West, who established the Gary and Mary West Foundation and West Health with his wife, Mary. “We are seeing an incredible need for dental services from our seniors, some of whom haven’t seen a dentist in decades, because they simply couldn’t afford it or couldn’t find a dentist who would see them. If we don’t do something to improve access for seniors, more and more older Americans will seek treatment in emergency rooms rather than in dental offices or clinics.”
As baby boomers retire and people live longer, access to affordable dental care becomes more difficult. According to San Diego County’s 2012 Survey of Older Americans, not being able to afford dental care was their greatest concern among eight health-related issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports only about 60 percent of seniors saw a dentist in the past year. Dental visits are even scarcer among low-income seniors and racial and ethnic minorities. Medicare, the largest health provider for seniors, does not cover routine dental care nor is dental coverage included for seniors under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid coverage of dental care varies by state, but the reimbursement dentists receive is so low that it is unsustainable for many dental practices to provide these critical services to seniors.
Unique Model Links Oral Health with General Health
The new Senior Dental Center is unique, taking a comprehensive and coordinated approach to addressing the dental needs of seniors, with an emphasis on oral health education and preventive care. Every patient receives a Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA) facilitated by a senior care navigator who coordinates their health, dental and social support needs. Serving Seniors is leading the implementation of the CGA and is collaborating with West Health and the Senior Dental Center to ensure care coordination is seamless and the appropriate services are delivered at the right time to every patient. In addition, the Gary and Mary West Health Institute is leading research efforts with the Senior Dental Center and other partners to study this integrated approach to care, in terms of improving overall healthcare outcomes and feasibility for broader replication throughout the country.
“Serving Seniors has supported San Diego’s most vulnerable seniors since 1970,” said Paul Downey, president and CEO of Serving Seniors. “Thanks to the vision of Gary and Mary West and the ongoing support of the Foundation, we created a one-stop-shop where nutritious meals are the cornerstone, and essential health and social services are also offered to seniors in need. Integrating oral healthcare allows us to connect a critical missing piece in our shared goal to help low-income seniors live healthy and fulfilling lives.”
Approximately 1,000 patients are expected to be treated in the 1,400-square-foot facility in the first year. The majority of patients who are being seen at the Senior Dental Center are eligible for Denti-Cal, the dental program within California’s Medicaid (Medi-Cal) program. However, because not all services are covered by Denti-Cal, other services are provided based on a sliding fee scale.
“The opening of the Senior Dental Center will provide low-income seniors with essential access to oral healthcare,” said Congressman Scott Peters. “The community-based approach of West Health will help bring a full-range of services through collaboration with other organizations like UCSD and Serving Seniors, helping hundreds of seniors with their everyday needs.”
Great Need in San Diego; Serves as National Model
“We are providing access to oral healthcare in a popular community wellness center in a way that no longer separates physical and oral health through our collaboration with Serving Seniors. We are conducting research on this new model of integrated care to demonstrate that it makes far more clinical and economic sense to address dental issues rather than ignore them,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO, West Health and the Gary and Mary West Foundation, and chair of the board of directors for the Senior Dental Center. “We are excited to bring smiles back to the faces of seniors and help restore their dignity and quality of life.”
Initial data shows a strong need for senior oral healthcare services in San Diego. Based on initial assessments of 300 people conducted at the West Senior Wellness Center, half were having difficulty eating, more than a third were experiencing dental pain and a quarter had not seen a dentist in more than five years.
“The Senior Dental Center offers crucial services for San Diego seniors who otherwise might have to choose between paying for basic necessities like rent, food or healthcare,” said Assembly Speaker Emeritus Toni G. Atkins. “The center, by featuring comprehensive oral care as well as general health and wellness services, is a model to be replicated. The center is an example of the Wests’ unwavering commitment to seniors.”
One of the first patients to receive treatment at the Senior Dental Center is an 81-year-old Navy veteran. He had suffered the consequences of serious dental neglect for more than 20 years, including advanced decay and gum disease with significant tooth loss. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, the pain he used to feel is gone, and the missing teeth that made it difficult for him to chew and smile have been restored with partial dentures.
“Many San Diego low-income seniors who live on less than $850 a month have fallen through the cracks when it comes to their dental care,” said Dr. Karen Becerra, DDS, MPH, CEO and dental director, Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center. “We need others in the community and across the country to support our efforts and efforts like them. If we don’t do something to improve access and engage seniors in prevention strategies, more and more older Americans will be forced to go without treatment and continue to live in pain.”
You Can Help Seniors Get the Oral Healthcare They Need Through the Wests’ Matching Contribution Campaign
In its 10-year history, the Gary and Mary West Foundation has provided approximately 400 grants totaling $175 million. The Foundation contributed more than $2 million in grants to establish the Senior Dental Center, which covered costs for construction, state-of-the-art dental equipment and start-up operations. Further, the Wests have announced the Foundation will do even more through a dollar-to-dollar grant that matches up to $250,000 in individual contributions made by the public to directly support seniors in need at the Senior Dental Center.
“We are inspired by the generosity of our neighbors here in San Diego who give back to the community,” said Gary West. “This matching grant is our way of doubling individual giving to support seniors who desperately need dental care.”
The Senior Dental Center has also received financial support from the California Wellness Foundation. San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts was instrumental in helping secure grant funding through the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program with the County of San Diego.
“The Senior Dental Center is a progressive approach to oral healthcare for seniors and is a model to be recognized nationwide,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts. “I support the vision for the Dental Center, and hope San Diegans will also support the cause and the matching campaign to help continue providing low-cost services to our seniors.”
To learn more about the Senior Dental Center, or to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit seniordentalcenter.org.
About The Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center
The nonprofit Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, through its innovative care model, offers high-quality, affordable oral healthcare with comprehensive education, health and wellness services at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in downtown San Diego to serve low-income seniors. The Senior Dental Center was established by the nonprofit Gary and Mary West Foundation whose founders are philanthropists Gary and Mary West. For more information and to donate, visit seniordentalcenter.org.
About West Health
Solely funded by philanthropists Gary and Mary West, West Health includes the nonprofit and nonpartisan Gary and Mary West Health Institute and Gary and Mary West Foundation in San Diego, and the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center in Washington, D.C. These organizations are working together toward a shared mission dedicated to enabling seniors to successfully age in place with access to high-quality, affordable health and support services that preserve and protect their dignity, quality of life and independence. For more information, visit westhealth.org and follow @westhealth.