The hearts of the staff and volunteers at Caring for Miami’s Project Smile are burdened because of the growing public health crisis that threatens to overwhelm hospitals and raise costs for all residents in South Florida. There are over 567,000 individuals currently falling in the Affordable Care Act coverage gap which signals a great need for access to free and low-cost dental care. Project Smile program gives our organization access to the uninsured, low-income dental population of South Florida. The goal of Project Smile is to provide free dental services and oral health education as we aim to reduce untreated dental disease in children and adults.
According to the US Census, over a third of the residents in Homestead, a suburb within the city of Miami, are foreign-born, with 75% of Latino or Hispanic descent and 71% reporting a language other than English spoken at home. The average household income is $48,479, which is below the average Miami-Dade County household income of $61,035. In fact, 23% of residents live with incomes less than the federal poverty level, which amounted to $24,250 for a family of four in 2015. In Monroe County, the statistics are similar. In addition to percentages detailing individuals who are foreign-born and average household income levels, 27.5% of the residents under the age of 65 have no health insurance.
After Hurricane Irma swept through parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe County, we saw the great need that was left in the wake of the devastation in an already needy community. This historic storm left people without homes, in necessity of basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, and with a shortage of healthcare as it wreaked havoc the only two hospitals in the Tavernier area of Monroe County. Naturally, we could not stand by and decided to rally our staff and gather a group of volunteers to travel from Miami to the Keys in an effort to relieve some of the evident hurt. As eager as we were to meet this need and serve the people of South Florida, we knew we weren’t able to do this on our own. The Ocean Reef Community Foundation provided us with the help we needed, by the awarding of a $40,000 grant, to address the visible concern through a partnership with Mariner’s Hospital and the Good Health Clinic.
As the only hospital in Tavernier, Mariners Hospital reports Access to Care as their highest priority. The Good Health Clinic is both the only free clinic and only licensed adult day care facility, which serves up to 45 people. The Good Health Clinic conducted a survey that indicated 98 out of 100 patients reported difficulties in accessing dental care and the need to see a dentist. Most individuals had not seen a dentist in over 10 years due to barriers that make accessing care challenging. Of these barriers, the most common reported include but are not limited to lack of availability, high cost, lack of insurance, and transportation. Clients covered under this grant given by the Ocean Reef Community Foundation will include residents of Miami-Dade and Monroe County. In addition, Project Smile also recently partnered with Lyft to assist patients who still experience difficulty accessing affordable healthcare due to transportation barriers. Now, patients can arrive to their appointments both safely and affordably.
On June 9th, 2018, Project Smile’s staff and volunteers traveled to Tavernier for the third time to partner with the Good Health Clinic. They served the community by providing $8,860 in services to twenty-four patients with eleven cleanings, sixteen extractions, and six fillings. Kaleigha, our Community Outreach Coordinator, describes the experience as priceless thanks to the Ocean Reef Community Foundation. She exclaimed, “The staff is so helpful and their patients so appreciative – It is truly a blessing to give back!” With the support of the awarded grant, Project Smile is excited to continue the efforts in providing services once a month to our partners in Monroe County, in addition to those in Miami-Dade County forty days out of the year.