At Delta Dental of Colorado, commitment to community is in our DNA. We prioritize doing the right thing and finding ways to make our communities thrive. Our work brings together the philanthropy of the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation and the corporate social responsibility practice of Delta Dental of Colorado. Since March of 2020, much of our work has focused on the challenges Coloradans have faced from the COVID-19 pandemic, and this shaped much of our grant-making and community investment.
During this period, we’ve also been asking questions about our direction forward and what it means to be an oral health advocate and funder. The world is different now, and our grant-making and community engagement efforts must evolve. We made a significant strategic shift at the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation to support the mission of elevating the well-being of all Coloradans by advancing oral health equity. We are excited about this new chapter and look forward to partnering with you.
It Starts with Corporate Responsibility
Delta Dental of Colorado is a socially responsible organization. Founded in 1958 as a nonprofit with a mission to improve the oral health of the communities we serve. In January 2021, we launched the newest phase of corporate responsibility and community engagement, designed around our people. An important part of being a team member at Delta Dental of Colorado is also being involved in the community.
This year, we’ve partnered with 12 nonprofit organizations to provide our team members with deeper perspective on the issues our communities are facing across the state. Through equity-focused lunch and learns and thoughtful volunteer engagement, we’ve been able to engage our team members in record numbers despite the pandemic. In addition to these partnerships, we launched a number of team member incentives to encourage giving back. This included a new Dollars for Doers program incentiving volunteering, a Money for Movers program that funds support for participating in health-related events, and a matching gifts fund for up to $1,000 per team member.
Along with these new programs, we launched our new sustainability initiative on Earth Day. We’ve set a goal and developed a plan of being a carbon-neutral company by 2024. Through this plan, in partnership with local consultants, we’re building team member education, carbon tracking, and offset programs. We are dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint and learning throughout this process.
This past year also saw protests around the country that raised awareness and discussion around racial equity in our country. Addressing and engaging in courageous conversations about inequality in our society is also a part of our corporate responsibility work. The civil unrest of 2020 pushed us to move faster in our self-examination and call to action. In March of this year, we launched our Inclusion and Diversity Council whose mission is to advance the organization’s culture of acceptance, belonging, and equity through education, guidance, and stewardship.
Deepening our commitment to oral health equity and system change
Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation is an organization guided by equity and adapting to the needs of the communities we serve. That’s why in the face of the pandemic, while oral health services were shut down, we pivoted our funding to support vital services and accessible care for those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. After our $2-million pandemic relief grants closed in September, we examined our relief efforts and devised a path forward for the foundation. We made a fundamental decision that we need to move away from treating the symptoms of the problems we are trying to address and move toward funding more permanent root-cause change.
As a result, we developed four initiatives that will drive our grant-making and align with our corporate responsibility work for at least the next five years. These strategic initiatives are supported by new evaluation and policy strategies that aim to demonstrate what works and how we can implement those practices on a larger scale. We are increasing our investments and staffing in both areas and hope to serve the state as a data hub for oral-health care access and utilization in Colorado as well as a powerful advocate for oral health equity.
Additionally, we are just beginning a process of developing a new investment strategy that will fully allocate our resources towards an ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) portfolio, and we are dedicating a large portion of our endowment toward impact investing opportunities. We believe that we can only achieve our mission when all of our resources are working together and toward the same intended outcomes. We are excited to announce that Delta Dental of Colorado and the foundation are working with a new investment manager, Syntrinsic, to help us achieve this goal.
Along with adding our new investment manager, we are adding three full-time positions this year (click here to see the open positions). We have also promoted Megan Wilson to deputy director of the foundation. In this role, Megan will help guide our operations and team through this period of change and position the foundation for years of success. Our new strategic direction is rooted in research and our learned experiences and refocuses our belief that every person deserves a healthy mouth regardless of life circumstances.
Diversity in the oral-health-care workforce
The first challenge we aim to tackle is the lack of diversity in the oral-health-care workforce. The oral-health-care field is disproportionally represented by white professionals, especially for higher-paying positions like dentists and hygienists, while dental assistant positions are disproportionately represented by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) populations.
The Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation is announcing a commitment to deliver more than $3 million in the next three years to scholarships, career impact bonds, laddering programs, and other investments to make progress on this issue. Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation hopes to provide new avenues for communities of color to enter the profession and access opportunities for advancement. We believe tapping into local talent can simultaneously provide pathways to prosperity to populations that are historically excluded, while diversifying the workforce and developing greater interest in the field. Racial congruity has proven to be a key factor in helping BIPOC populations seek health care, and we are committed to making sure our practitioners represent our demographics in Colorado.
Oral health prevention in early childhood
Our second initiative is a continuation of Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation’s effort to encourage and offer preventive services to our youngest generation. Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation’s original mission was dedicated to preventing childhood caries, and we will continue that work with a new passion and tactics toward systems change. Childhood caries is the number-one disease faced by our children. Colorado’s children have missed more days of school due to an oral-health issue than any other single cause.
The ramifications of poor oral health can stifle a child’s overall health, mental health, and their ability to maximize their potential. By learning from best practices around the country, our history with this issue, and, most recently, the work of Cavity Free by Three, we will lead efforts to create substantial systemic change in this area. We believe there are many opportunities to bring oral health prevention programs and access to care to Colorado’s early childhood system as it grows and evolves. The time is right to make a change, and we hope to work in new ways with new partners to deliver on this process.
Place-based access to quality oral health care
Our third initiative is place-based and is meant to focus our resources on addressing stubborn issues around access and utilization in two Colorado communities that experience high rates of poverty and limited access to quality health care.
Through an in-depth data analysis with the Colorado Health Institute and examination of the past and current work of foundation grantees, we identified the San Luis Valley and communities in NE Denver/NW Aurora, Fitzsimmons, and Hoffman Heights/Jewell Heights (which we are referring to East Metro) as the two locations for the launch of our place-based work. The place-based initiative aims to develop long-term relationships, partnerships, resources, and solutions by working with communities to identify holistic investments in better, more innovative systems for access to quality oral health care.
Invest in those who contribute to oral health equity
In addition to our new initiatives, the foundation is excited to officially launch its mission-related investment (MRI) program dedicated to providing low-interest loans for oral health capital investments. During the pandemic, the foundation launched its first-ever loan program to help dental providers struggling as a result of the shutdown. We learned much during this process and formed a partnership with the Colorado Enterprise Fund, a local community development financial institution. We have since created a new strategy focused on Colorado nonprofit and public organizations that directly provide oral-health care to their community.
As the only dedicated oral health funder in Colorado, we appreciate the unique role we play in the safety-net dental delivery system. This year we have dedicated $3 million toward our loan program and based on demand, expect to direct more funding toward this strategy in the future. These loans will help fund oral-health-related capital needs to drive more revenue in community-based dental providers, services, and clinics. MRIs are available statewide to nonprofits and public providers and will be managed for equitable distribution across the state and across urban and rural communities.
Overall social impact
As you can see, there is a lot of change at Delta Dental of Colorado and the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation. We are excited about our new direction and approach. We believe measurable social impact is achieved through giving, volunteerism, sponsorships, research, policy change, impact investing, and strategic grant-making. The work of the foundation and our corporate responsibility programs go hand in hand. Your partnership with us in the new era of the foundation will lead to positive, meaningful change in the communities you serve. We look forward to partnering with you to ensure we elevate the well-being of all Coloradans by advancing oral health equity.