Editor’s Note: Jim Henry is on the Board of Directors for the Rotary Club of Sarasota Foundation. The Foundation is a charitable arm of the Rotary Club of Sarasota with a mission to help build a better community and world through humanitarian, educational, and charitable endeavors.
Teachers and school nurses observe children with dental pain nearly every day. Services are available to Medicaid-enrolled children, but often times children are not enrolled. Lack of dental care is a major cause of low-income student absenteeism, which attributes to poor reading skills leading to increased high school dropout rates: a vicious cycle that will soon be broken through a collaboration between the Rotary Club of Sarasota Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation, Florida Department of Health-Sarasota, State of Florida, and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
The Florida Department of Health-Sarasota offers dental services to Sarasota County’s more than 20,000 Medicaid qualified students. Unfortunately, due to circumstance, most of these students never come to receive dental services. Understanding the impact of poor dental health on grade-level reading, if the students couldn’t come to the Department, then the Department decided they would go to the students. The only setback was funding for transportable dental equipment. In stepped the Rotary Club of Sarasota Foundation (RCSF). RCFS dedicated up to $10,000 to match other contributions so the Health Department could order the necessary equipment. Without hesitation, The Patterson Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County agreed to match and the three Foundations split the almost $25,000 equipment costs evenly.
With the proper equipment and a $42,000 grant from the State of Florida, Sarasota County has initiated its School-Based Dental program, sealing the way for better dental care for Sarasota’s Medicaid-qualified students.