Making Connections to Improve Oral Health Care in Alabama

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December 5, 2023

Jennifer Harris, the senior health policy advocate at Alabama Arise, says no day is the same at her job.

“You may have someone that’s working over here to reduce tooth decay in school-age children, and then you may have someone in another part of the state that is looking at the accessibility for someone who’s disabled to be seen by a provider,” Harris says. “What I’m doing is creating a network where we can bring all our work together to really make strides in access when it comes to oral health.”

Alabama Arise is a statewide, member-led organization advancing public policies to improve the lives of Alabamians who are marginalized by poverty. It has been doing that grassroots work for more than 35 years.

“Part of my role as the health policy advocate at Alabama Arise is being in the community, hearing from people and their lived experiences, seeing what the day-to-day is like, and hearing what their needs are,” says Harris. “Then I work to connect those things to real policy changes and improvements.”

Alabama is a state that does not offer dental coverage to people enrolled in Medicaid, creating a barrier to access oral health care — something that Harris is advocating to change with the help of CareQuest Institute. CareQuest Institute provided a grant to Alabama Arise in 2023 to help the organization advocate for better oral health benefits.

“Some of the unique issues and barriers when it comes to health care in Alabama is you kind of have this divided system,” Harris explains. “We have some world-class health centers in Alabama — at UAB Hospital, at University of South Alabama in Mobile, and the Huntsville Hospital. But between those cities and locations, there’s a lot of state. And in this state, there are people that have to travel two to three hours multiple times a week just to receive the care they need.”

Watch this video to learn more about Alabama Arise and the efforts Harris is helping to lead to create better oral health in the state.

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