We talked with Donna Balaski, DMD, Dental Program Administrator at the state’s Department of Social Services – Integrated Care Unit, to get her thoughts on milestones the program has reached over the years. Dr. Balaski oversees the administration of The Connecticut Dental Health Partnership, as well as other Medicaid Administrative Service Organizations (ASOs). The dental plan for HUSKY Health and now Covered CT has staff based in Farmington, CT, manages a network of over 1,000 dental providers and is operated by BeneCare Dental Plans.
At the Start
How did the CT Dental Health Partnership get its start?
The state of Connecticut used to have a medical managed care model that did not include dental benefits. I was tasked with creating a dental program and created a public-health based model focused on utilization management (encouraging members to use their dental benefits). Connecticut was the first state dental program to have certified Community Health Workers (CHWs).
Health equity is a big focus at the CT Dental Health Partnership. What are some initiatives that have been started to reduce barriers to care?
At the beginning of the program, I wanted to make sure people who service HUSKY Health members were within the state. For example, instead of out of state Call Center and outreach teams, I wanted to make sure our team lived in the state and were familiar with Connecticut so they could better help members navigate the program.
Our Member Services Call Center is based in Farmington, CT and our certified Community Health Workers (CHWs), now known as Oral Health Navigators and Community Engagement Specialists, are in communities throughout the state.
Culturally Linguistic and Appropriate Services (CLAS) is something we prioritize. We recognize there are diverse populations within communities. That’s why we have an internal team at the CT Dental Health Partnership that works on translation services. One of the activities this team takes on is to review Spanish translations in our information, taking different dialects into consideration. We also have translation services available for people who speak other languages.
The HUSKY Dental program ranks third in the country among state Medicaid programs for children’s utilization of dental benefits. How do you think the program has been able to accomplish this?
Our research-based, comprehensive approach to communicating with, educating and working with HUSKY Health members continues to have proven results. Community Health Workers, we call Community Engagement Specialists, are in the communities educating people about the importance of oral health. They focus on instilling good oral health habits early so that kids will grow up healthy. Children in the HUSKY Health program show fewer instances of having gingivitis or decay versus children without these benefits. We also make sure to partner with a broad range of community organizations. As a result, we can “meet members where they are” in the community. That is something that is unique to the program.
What is one milestone the HUSKY Health Dental program has reached that you’re most proud of?
How all the staff has worked together to build a model program, and the out-of-the-box thinking that puts the program way ahead of other programs. Medical/dental integration efforts and caries prevention programs are some activities in the works.
Anything else you’d like to share?
At the CT Dental Health Partnership, we have a good relationship with everyone we work with. We pride ourselves on good customer service and enjoy working, collaborating, and learning with everyone. We have learned from our partners how to strengthen the program, and the program is a result of a village of ideas that have come into fruition. I look forward to building upon the strong foundation.