According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Asian Americans are at higher risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They are also more likely to lack insurance and face language or cultural barriers when seeking care. May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation wanted to shine a spotlight on our partner since 2017, Asian Health Services (AHS). The guest blog below from Dr. Huong Le highlights the work AHS does in its community to provide quality, culturally competent care to all patients – whether they can pay or have insurance. I am grateful to Dr. Le for being a guest blogger and to AHS for being our partner. –Kenzie Ferguson

Two women stand in front of a mural putting their hands on other hand prints in various colors that have been left by others as part of the mural design
Asian Health Services provides comprehensive health care in 14 different languages

By Dr. Huong Le, Asian Health Services Chief Dental Officer

Asian Health Services (AHS) is a federally qualified health center located in Oakland, California. Founded in 1974, AHS provides health, social, and advocacy services for all regardless of income, insurance status, immigration status, language, or culture. We serve patients in 14 different languages and offer medical, dental and mental health services as well as hospice to more than 50,000 individuals.

Like most health centers, the pandemic created new challenges for our operations. We had to adapt, and so we created several programs to do so. For our hospice patients, we asked the community to write and send cards to brighten the day of those living in isolation at the end of life. We ramped up testing for the community quickly and secured additional personal protective equipment for our staff. We also accelerated our adoption of telehealth.

As early as March 19, 2020, just days after shelter-in-place orders were initiated, we implemented virtual visits where we were able to diagnose and help a 6-year-old child who was presented with an oral infection that we identified as primary herpes solely through the telehealth visit. We also had a patient who was presented with a palatal cyst, a growth on the roof of the mouth, that required surgical removal. These are just a few examples of how telehealth has been one of the major methods in keeping our patients connected with us, allowing dental concerns to be addressed and taken care of promptly. The pandemic has slowed us down but hasn’t hindered our commitment to providing innovative holistic care to our patients.

Along with a plethora of services provided during the pandemic, we made sure that our agency adapted to the needs of our patients, adjusting in ways and methodologies that accounted for care that our patients prioritized. In the early stages of the pandemic, we were able to work with our behavioral health staff to get many of our patients and families that were in serious distress into specialty mental health appointments that some of our patients desperately need. We continued our integrated diabetes screening as well and continued to screen our patients for diabetes and conducted their HbA1C tests. Because of the diabetic screenings, we were able to help a young patient whose diabetic conditions were at a dangerous level; he was immediately referred to his physician and quickly to an endocrinologist for his care.

We’re continuing to look at ways to better support our community. We realized there was a real gap in language services for Asian Americans in receiving COVID-19 vaccines. To address this and ensure we are adhering to the law, which requires federally funded activities offer meaningful language assistance, we have joined with several other organizations to improve language access for this critical effort to end the pandemic. We have also set up a website to report language barriers while seeking a vaccine: https://www.asianamvoices.org/.

In 2020, our dental clinic pioneered pediatric dental drive through screenings and protocols, when our department saw a need in our community for quick and safe drive-through fluoride and varnish appointments for pediatric patients. These protocols were adapted by the California Office of Oral Health.

A child has her teeth examined while in the car with a parent and sibling
A child gets treated at pediatric dental drive through

The feedback from our community has been phenomenally positive. On one of the first telehealth video calls, a patient was so touched that we contacted her regarding her dental concerns. She thanked us for the call that she described as something that, “made her feel well cared for and connected after days of isolation.” Before we ended the phone call, she said, “Please take care of yourselves. You are the front-line health care providers that are exposed to the virus constantly. Don’t get sick because I want to see you again!”