Catching up with our community: how the Church Health Center is adapting to COVID-19

We are proud to showcase the inspiring stories of organizations who are helping improve the oral health of their communities – which we know is essential to overall health. We featured the Church Health Center in Delta Dental's 2019 Community Impact Report and recently caught up with them about their latest oral health programming and how they are adapting to COVID-19. Low-income Tennesseans face barriers to oral health care – 86% of low-income adults in the state cite cost as the main reason they haven’t been to the dentist, and Tennessee is one of only three states in the nation whose Medicaid program does not provide dental benefits. The Church Health Center is a community space supported by Delta Dental of Tennessee's Smile180 Foundation that provides Memphis residents a place to improve both their physical and mental wellness. From what was once an abandoned Sears warehouse, the Church Health Center now offers integrated medical, dental, physical rehabilitation, eye care, and behavioral health services, in addition to nutrition, movement, and health ministry programs. With a network of more than 1,000 volunteer providers and partnerships with congregations, health care institutions, businesses, and facilities—in Memphis and across the United States—Church Health serves over 18,000 patients annually and fosters health and well-being through clinical services, educational resources, family programs, and outreach. 


1) How has COVID-19 affected Church Health and the broader community?


Church Health has seen a resurgence of need in our community due to COVID-19. Many of our patients lost their jobs or were laid off. Employees, patients, and families across Memphis lost loved ones due to the virus. Providing access to COVID-19 testing alongside our regular healthcare operations has become the new norm. Church Health has stepped up as a leader within the local safety net community to provide information and sharing best practices in ways that have never been done before. We hope this will serve to strengthen our collective care impact within our city.



2) What changes has Church Health made to address the challenges of delivering care during COVID-19?


We strive to always be adaptable and flexible in our dental department, and COVID-19 has required us to really live out these principles in how we care for our patients. Church Health pivoted immediately upon recognizing the need to still provide essential services to the community while keeping staff, volunteers, and patients safe. All patients and staff are screened and have a temperature check upon entering our spaces. In our dental clinic, we have followed and implemented all ADA and CDC protocol recommendations. We turned our consult rooms into "clean" rooms and "dirty" rooms for our PPE. We use a hospital-grade UVE radiation light to properly clean, sanitize, and conserve PPE where needed. We have used our space to spread out our chairs of care and have invested in intraoral devices, which decrease spatter and reduce dental aerosols, in addition to our traditional HVE methods.


3) What does good oral health mean to you?


Good oral health means a better job. It means being able to smile without shame. Good oral health means a healthier diet—being able to chew and eat nutritious fruits and vegetables instead of soft, processed food. Good oral health is the eradication of disease and the elimination of pain. We believe that good oral health is integral to achieving overall health, and we treat our patients with this in mind. 


4) What do you find most meaningful about working to provide better oral care?

We know that what we do is more than just giving patients new smiles. We can change someone's life by improving their mental, spiritual, financial, social, and nutritional well-being. We see our dental department as a sanctuary of hope, where everyone is met and accepted as they are—where we can practice the true art of healing together. When our patients reach the end of their treatment plan and they look in the mirror at teeth that are now pain and disease-free, at a person who has found confidence and self-worth, we respond—"we saw it all along."


To read more about the impactful community programs that Delta Dental is proud to support, check out our 2019 Community Impact Report.