Howard Dental summer fundraisers seek more reliable funding for HIV/AIDS care
June 22, 2012 | 12:00 am
(Updated: February 22, 2013 | 3:54 pm)
Since 1994 Howard Dental has provided dentistry to HIV-positive people in the Denver area – founded at a time when many dentists refused to treat those infected with the virus. The nonprofit was created to meet that need.
“The perception hadn’t caught up with reality,” Development Director Mary Salsich said of the time – though it was known that casual contact and sharing dishes or utensils with an HIV-positive person carries no risk of infection, dentists were still afraid to treat them. “That’s why one of our roles as people who work with HIV/AIDS is education – there’s still stigma,” Salsich said.
The fear and anxiety over HIV has partially subsided in subsequent years, as the Denver dentistry organization has expanded – to a full-time staff of 11 including two dentists and two hygienists, treating 863 patients with more than 11,907 dental procedures in 2011, Salsich said.
Howard Dental is funded half by the federal Ryan White Care Act funneled through the City of Denver’s HIV/AIDS programs, part through patient co-pays and insurance, and a portion from foundation grants, fundraisers and donors, Salsich said.
“We’re working to boost the individual donors because if we’re dependent on government grants, we have no control over the decisions [politicians] make,” Salsich said.
Fundraisers will include a June 29 happy hour at X Bar from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and a kickball tournament on Sunday, August 26, Salsich said. Those interested in learning more about Howard Dental can come to the next quarterly open house on July 25 at the facility, housed in a former Denver Public School Building at 1420 Ogden St.
Through the years the public perception of HIV/AIDS has changed, and so have the issues HIV-positive people face. As the virus evolved from a death sentence to a manageable condition – one that people have learned to live with for the long haul – Howard Dental has begun to address them. In 2008, the group hired a case manager who can refer patients to resources to meet a variety of needs, such as housing. Earlier, in 2000, the group began to re-think how they addressed return appointments when records showed that many patients were failing to show up.
“They realized people were not going through the return visits after an initial visit when their pain was resolved,” Salsich said. “Now they give each new patient a treatment plan with an accelerated schedule of appointments to get taken care of, and into routine treatment.” An overarching goal, Salsich said, is to help and encourage patients to take responsibility for their own health.
It was all possible because, nearly two decades ago, a small group of practitioners decided to break the mold and find a way to give HIV-positive patients care.
“They were smart enough to know their risk [of infection] was low,” Salsich said, “but even if they had one, they needed to take it because there was such a need.”