Wabash County Health Department
WCHD Prevention Office
Phone: (618) 263-3873 ext. 237
Community Systems Change in Wabash/Edwards Counties Yields Real Results
No one likes going to the dentist, but what if you couldn’t access one—and you were in pain? What if most people in your community—regardless of income or education—didn’t know that good oral health is a key factor to lifelong overall health? What if the number of children that needed emergency dental care skyrocketed so much that the local nonprofit organization dedicated to helping them access emergency dental care was facing financial crisis?
That was the situation facing the Wabash/Edwards Counties All Our Kids Network after they completed their needs assessment in 2017. These counties, located in far southern Illinois, have a total population of 18,000 people (6 percent of residents are under age five). Farming, coal mining, and manufacturing comprise their economic base. Established in 2000, the AOK Wabash/Edwards Counties membership includes local service providers, early learning programs, the local hospital, law enforcement, the public transportation agency, and more.
In 2017, after completing a five-year strategic plan, this AOK Network selected oral health as the top issue to address in their community. Their work to address the issue intensified when the local emergency dental program for children, Wednesday’s Child, found itself unsure of program sustainability. Working together, AOK Network assessed the issue of lack of access to dental services, both preventative and non-preventative.
1. The percentage of low-income families in both counties had increased dramatically. Now, 39 percent of children in Edwards County and 47 percent of children in Wabash County were eligible for all services, including dental services, under that state’s Medicaid program. School district data also showed high percentages of children qualifying for free and reduced lunch.
2. Edwards County has no dental providers. While Wabash has two dental practices, neither accepted Medicaid. Families regularly drove 45 miles or farther to see a dental provider who accepted Medicaid.
3. Dental Safari, a mobile dental provider, did accept Medicaid-qualified patients, and served some Edwards County children, but not Wabash County children.
4. Wednesday’s Child served Wabash County children but was experiencing financial and program sustainability challenges. Without additional funding, or other treatment options, they would not be able to continue to serve the children of Wabash County.
By looking comprehensively at the situation from a community systems perspective (not program-by-program), the AOK Network partnered with Wednesday’s Child to identify critical changes that would be needed to give more children who needed preventative and emergency services access. For instance, with the support of the Wabash County District #348 and local Head Start programs, the Dental Safari mobile van will be expanding services to Wabash County to provide local children with needed dental services at least once per year. The mobile van, if demand and interest rises, may increase visits to include a 6-month follow-up visits for children.
In addition to Dental Safari expanding services to Wabash County, the dentists in Wabash County agreed to deepen their partnership with Wednesday’s Child by offering supports and services for children at little- to no-cost to the program. This partnership would increase Wednesday’s Child’s capacity to serve children in Wabash County that need emergent care. Wednesday’s Child and the Wabash/Edwards Counties AOK Network are hopeful that the partnerships and service coordination strategies will significantly improve oral health conditions and support the emergent dental needs of children in their community over time and across generations.
Likewise, the AOK Network is looking to address additional root causes of poor oral health outcomes. They plan to work with a variety of community stakeholders to create common messaging regarding best practices for preventative dental care, focusing on dental care for babies and toddlers, to ensure families receive correct and consistent information about how to best support their children’s oral health.
For more information, please contact Mariah Barber, AOK Network Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ties that Bind Communities Together
Wabash and Edwards counties are located in the south-central region of eastern Illinois, along the banks of the Wabash River. Farming, manufacturing, education, and healthcare jobs help contribute to the economic base of these counties. Wabash and Edwards Counties are mostly rural and have a combined population of approximately 18,626 residents in 2010 with 1,039 being children under the age of five. ‘Farm, Family, and Faith’ is the resounding mantra of local residents. The region is known for being a rich family friendly community with interesting historic sites. As with most rural locations, the advantages of living in small towns and rural communities are the peaceful and safe environments it offers to families with young children.
One of the greatest challenges faced by rural communities is isolation when it comes to accessing services. Often the closest clinics, hospitals and social service agencies may be a couple hours away. Accessing needed services for young children can be extremely challenging for families who have no idea what is available in their county. The Wabash and Edwards County All Our Kids (AOK) Early Childhood Network has been striving to keep providers and families informed of all the services that are available in the area. Business leaders, program directors, early childhood and health professionals, teachers, child advocates and many others have come together at AOK gatherings to create better ways of bringing awareness of available and needed services to families, and service providers.
In rural settings such as Wabash and Edwards County families and providers report feeling disconnected or unaware of necessary programs. And with the changing economy, often programs become funded and de-funded while service providers are left unaware of these changes. The Wabash and Edwards County AOK for the past decade has gathered service providers and businesses from all around the area to better understand what supports are available to families with young children. Network partners have made it a regular practice over the years to introduce new programs, businesses and resources to the Network as they learn about them.
This AOK Network through collaboration and network meetings learned about a tool to help providers keep track of services available to families they serve. Network partners decided that the best way to showcase the resources in the community is to create a Resource and Referral Directory and Card. These tools were simply created by providing a template to service providers who then returned valuable information that would help the community and families have a better understanding of services available to them. The information was then compiled together to create a Resource Directory that is made available to families with young children.
The Resource Card is a quick reference available to service providers to get easy access to information that they can pass on to a family. These cards include enough information like agency name, contact information, website address, services provided, eligibility criteria, and a specific person to contact if they have questions, to help providers connect families to appropriate programs. As some families struggle to gain access to updated information (even online) in very remote areas of Illinois these resource tools serve as a quick and easy way to connect people to services when they need them. The Resource Directory and Card has been well received by network partners and public alike and will continue to be prioritized by this AOK Network to ensure all valuable and necessary information is available and up to date. This ensures that families can continue to enjoy the advantages of living in rural communities by reducing barriers such as access to services so families can feel connected to the supports they need.
What resources are necessary to replicate this approach?
- Mapping of Community Resources
- Coordination to gather, compile and update information
- Materials to publish directory and cards in large quantities (or publishing resource)
- Partners who agree to update and disseminate resource tools community-wide