While the San Juan Mountains convey the grandeur of Colorado, those living in this stunning region of our state are faced with a reality that befalls many rural Coloradans - a shortage of health care professionals that provide dental and primary care services.
Most notably affected by this shortage are low income families trying to secure dental care for their children. Yet, a program that was created in the schools of Boston and expanded to rural Colorado in 2007 is making a difference. Started by the Telluride Foundation and aided by a large three year grant from the Caring for Colorado Foundation that same year, the program continues to transform the dental care options available for children living in Ouray, San Miguel and west Montrose counties.
The San Juan Kids Cavity Prevention Program (SKIPPY) is a mobile, school-based oral health program that provides oral screening, cleanings, sealants and fluoride treatments and oral health education for children ages 6-13 in the San Juan region. Nearly 50 percent of these children are uninsured, without dental homes and would not have access to care if it weren’t for SKIPPY. In addition, SKIPPY navigators help eligible parents enroll their children in Medicaid or CHP+.
According to Lynn Borup, executive director of Tri-County Health Network, since 2008 SKIPPY has held more than 90 dental clinics, provided more than 4,000 treatments to children and reduced the percentage of children who have not seen a dentist in the San Juan region by nearly 50 percent. Outcomes show that children who have received four or more SKIPPY treatments reduced their cavities to near zero. Currently, SKIPPY is in 12 different schools throughout six school districts in the San Juan region.
To date, SKIPPY has received nearly $317,000 in three grant awards from Caring for Colorado to improve children’s oral health in the region. With the latest round of funding from Caring for Colorado, SKIPPY is expanding its outreach to include children ages 0-5. This increased outreach will allow SKIPPY to offer dental services to more than 775 children through 97 licensed area childcare centers, expanding the program’s reach to more than 8,000 kids.
According to Borup, Caring for Colorado has not only shown its commitment to the San Juan region through financial support but also through addressing the work force shortage issues facing rural Colorado, helping to bring health care professionals to the region and encouraging dentists to accept not only kids but kids on Medicaid into their practices. She goes on to say that CFC has put SKIPPY “on the map” in Colorado.
“This work is extremely rewarding,” states Borup. “The parents are very familiar and receptive to SKIPPY. They realize the positive impact it has not only on their children’s oral health but on their overall health as well. Through SKIPPY, we are able to reduce the primary barrier to oral healthcare — access.”