Medicare and Oral Health


Does basic Medicare cover regular dental visits?
A)    Yes
B)    No
C)    I’m not sure…

If you answered A or C, you aren’t alone, as a recent Washington Dental Service Foundation survey showed 51% of respondents in Spokane believe Medicare covers dental. However, you would be wrong.

Correct answer: B) No, basic Medicare does not cover dental, and a lot of folks entering retirement are learning this the hard way. A recent article in The Spokesman Review talks about what steps folks approaching retirement should take for their oral health.

Good oral health relates to a lot more than just our teeth; our ability to chew effects the nutrition we receive, our ability to smile effects our confidence, and chronic conditions like Type 2 Diabetes can exacerbate dental decay.

Organizations like Smile Spokane, WDSF’s The Mighty Mouth, and our subsidiary Better Health Together's DENT program are helping connect folks to the dental care they need, but for lasting change, we need a health care system that includes our mouths in our health. To learn more about EHF’s involvement in our community's oral health, view our Oral Health Access Document here. 

Growing medical residency workforce moves to new clinic

Download full press release here.

A new health clinic that will serve as a training site for new physicians and provide interdisciplinary opportunities for the region’s university students opened today, Monday, August 1.

The Spokane Teaching Health Center clinic, located on Washington State University Spokane’s Health Sciences campus, will be operated by Providence Health Care and supported by the consortium of Empire Health Foundation, Providence Health Care and Washington State University Spokane.

Joining in the move are 43 new medical residents who began work at Sacred Heart Medical Center in June, an increase of 10 residents over last year. It’s the third consecutive year of growth, thanks to the efforts of the consortium.

Overall, Spokane now has 99 medical residencies and fellowships, up from 74 just three years ago. Of the increase, 19 residents are training in family and internal medicine and are supported through the consortium while six residents are training in psychiatry and are supported through Providence.

The majority of these new doctors are moving from the Internal Medicine, Family Medicine and Psychiatry Residency clinics in the Fifth and Browne Medical Building to the new 42,000-square-foot Spokane Teaching Health Clinic (STHC), financed and built by WSU on its downtown Spokane campus at 624 E. Front Street.

In addition to growing residency slots, the consortium has a mission of integrating students and faculty from health sciences programs in the region into a team-based clinical environment, which is the future of health care.

Mike Nowling, a member of the Spokane Teaching Health Center Board of Directors, said the clinic will improve regional health and economic vitality. “The growth of residency slots for eastern Washington will be a great step forward. Add interdisciplinary training at the clinic and our community benefits even more.”

The Spokane Teaching Health Center consortium was formed in 2013 when the partners were awarded a $900,000 federal Teaching Health Center grant to create new medical residency slots for eastern Washington. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell from Washington State joined in a bipartisan effort last year with their colleagues to extend the funding beyond its initial round of grants. This new source of funding medical residencies is significant since traditional Medicare funding for residency positions has been capped for nearly 20 years.

Washington State has an uneven distribution of residency slots, with nearly 1,500 of the state’s 1,600 positions in western Washington. The same is true in the distribution of physicians, with 49 percent practicing in the Seattle area where 29 percent of the population lives.

The maldistribution affects where physicians practice as the two main reasons for choosing to practice in an area are where a physician attended medical school and did his or her residency.


Diversity is not About Finding Unicorns

For a long time, I considered diversity a "nice to have" element. I supported it in principle, but always with the caveat, "if we can find the right person." As I saw it, diversity was a goal to be pursued as long as it didn't compromise the strength and cohesion of the team. I considered myself fortunate when finding a candidate from another background who (as I saw it) was able to meet our high standards for performance – a unicorn.

Recently I came across two articles which have entirely changed my perspective. In the first Guess Who Doesn't Fit In at Work, Lauren Rivera from the Kellogg School of Management looks at the role of cultural fit in hiring practices. She points to a survey indicating that 80% of employers worldwide named cultural fit as a top priority. Yet what does that mean in practice? Research by Rivera and others indicates that "fit has become a catchall used to justify people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not." Not surprisingly, hiring people like ourselves will reduce demographic and cultural diversity; beyond that, it turns out to be a poor predictor of performance. Just as people are notoriously bad at spotting liars, it is easy for hiring managers to mistake rapport for skill. As I look back on my own hiring decisions, there is no question in my mind that I have fallen into this trap at times.

A second article How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, I found even more challenging to my assumptions. The authors point to several studies showing the impact of diverse teams on company performance. For example, Deszo and Ross studied the S&P 1500 and found that "female representation in top management leads to an increase of $42 million in firm value." In 2006, the author and a team set out to study "the impact of racial diversity on small decision-making groups...where sharing information was a requirement for success" (sounds a lot like today's workplace). Given the task to solve a murder mystery, they found that groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed the racially homogeneous groups. These results have been supported by other studies and apply to other types of diversity such as disabilities and even political orientation.

Yet the authors have another surprise in store: the improved performance of diverse teams is consistent regardless of the skills and experience of the members. In other words, the improvement is not a function of finding diverse members who meet certain criteria, but rather comes through group dynamics. "When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity does not." Simply being in a diverse group makes the members drop their predefined assumptions, work harder, and maintain a more open-minded stance. This in turn leads to improved results.

Taken together, these articles make a powerful argument. First, that hiring managers are generally bad at assessing talent, and that their judgments will be heavily influenced by their social and cultural affinity for the candidate. Second, that a diverse team will outperform a homogeneous one across a wide range of collaborative activities, independent of their background and qualifications. In other words, pursuing diversity shifts from a demographic argument to one of enlightened self-interest.

Of course, one may reasonably ask what diversity means in a relatively homogeneous region like Eastern Washington. To attempt an answer, I looked at two data sets for the seven counties served by EHF: U.S. census estimates from 2014, and public school data from 2016. Here is a summary:

If indeed children are our future, then our region will undergo significant changes in the coming years. Note in particular the growth in the percentages of those identifying as Hispanic and two or more races.

Through a demographic lens, we may view this as a challenge for enterprises to reflect the future makeup of their community / customers. More powerfully, there is a rising wave of talent which, if engaged, will strengthen our teams and organizations. At EHF, we are in the process of integrating diversity into all aspects of our work; not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing.

-Mike Yeaton, Chief Strategy Officer for Empire Health Foundation


Potlatch Fund seeking candidates to fill 2 open board positions

Potlatch Fund is seeking two (2) new members to join its Board of Directors. 

Potlatch Fund is a Native-led organization that seeks to inspire and build upon the Native tradition of giving and to expand philanthropy within Tribal Nations and Native communities of the Northwest. The Fund operates in the four state regions of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. 

Specifically, they are recruiting for individuals who can offer knowledge and expertise in either one of these two areas: 

• Extensive knowledge of and current community connections within the philanthropic sector (including public, private, Tribal, and corporate). 

• Extensive knowledge of financial management and nonprofit accounting and a willingness to serve on our Finance Committee and potentially grow into serving as our Treasurer. 

If you are interested or know someone who fits this description, read the announcement here for more info on how to apply.