As health practitioners spoke to students at G. James Ghoulson Middle School on Wednesday about the importance of health care, some could not finish their remarks without mentioning Deamonte Driver, the 12-year-old Prince George’s County boy who died five years ago as a result of an infected tooth.
Deamonte’s life might have been saved had he gotten a tooth extraction that costs less than $100.
The boy’s death spurred lawmakers to change Maryland’s Medicaid dental program to increase reimbursement rates and allow dental hygienists in public health settings to provide more preventive care for patients in need.
Now the county is coordinating with Children’s National Medical Center, Mary’s Center, the University of Maryland School of Nursing Governor’s Wellmobile, the Deamonte Driver Dental Project and Smile Maryland to make medical and dental services even more accessible to public school students and their parents.
“These units meet our kids where they are,” said Verjeana Jacobs, chairwoman of the county school board. “We know every teacher in this school district can tell us that they have children who are sick, children who are hungry.”
Mobile health units that offer the same type of services found in dentists’ and primary care doctors’ offices will travel to about 175 schools in the county this school year. The units — mostly offering dental services — were previously available at 108 schools, officials said.
“How fitting is it that this county that represented the worst of dental access is now representing the best of dental access,” said Marcy Borofsky, co-founder of Smile Programs, which operates mobile dental units in Virginia and Baltimore as well as throughout the country.
Last year, Smile Maryland visited 90 schools. It will add 50 more schools to its stops this year. The Deamonte Driver Dental Project will double its outreach from 10 schools to 20 schools this year.
“Our goal is to ensure that no other child suffers because of a lack of services,” said Debony Hughes, the program chief of the county’s dental-health service.
Joseph Wright, interim executive vice president of Children’s National Medical Center, which began offering medical and dental services in the county in March, said the mobile units’ mission is twofold: to provide access and to get children signed up for insurance coverage.
With 17 percent of its residents uninsured, Prince George’s has the highest uninsured rate in Maryland. The state’s average is 13 percent.
“When you look at the totality of health care in Prince George’s County, where we are and most importantly where we are going, the mobile health units will play a vital role in closing some of the health disparity gaps that were identified in the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Impact Study by bringing primary medical and dental health care where it’s needed most,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said in a statement.
A report prepared by RAND Health for the County Council in 2009 found that residents of Prince George’s were more likely to be obese and diabetic than those elsewhere in Maryland as well as in the District. The county ranked lower than Baltimore and the District in the number of cases of hypertension but higher than the District in heart-disease cases.
The study also estimated that as many as 150,000 county residents lack health insurance or have insufficient coverage. It also found that county residents use emergency rooms more than residents of neighboring counties do; pediatric practices are largely in the county’s most affluent areas; and some residents’ access is limited because medical practices are not spread across the county.