Filling the Gap: An Evaluation of a Voluntary Dental Program Within an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Primary Health Service
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Objectives: For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, access to oral health care is complicated by a maldistribution of dentists in regional areas. To address this problem in Far North Queensland, a volunteer dental program 'Filling the Gap' was established in 2006 in partnership with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled primary health service. This paper reports on the program's first formal evaluation and its findings. Methods: The program's operation over a two-year period was investigated using multiple methods including a literature review, examining patient characteristics (n=50), and exploring episodes and types of care, patterns of volunteer recruitment, and stakeholder perceptions of the program through collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data. Results: Key findings revealed that 79 weeks of dental care were provided by 68 volunteer visitors addressing patient needs satisfactorily and eliminating waiting lists. Stakeholders believed that the program met a pressing need, enhanced workforce development, provided a quality service with continuity of care, and enabled cross-cultural relationships to thrive, with the familiarity and trust felt by patients towards the wider health service and its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dental staff extending to the shortstay volunteers. Conclusion: Whilst at the same time highlighting the critical importance of dental care within the community controlled primary health care service setting, the evaluation of 'Filling the Gap' found the program to be both effective and appropriate. Its success, however, should not take the place of sustainable, accessible oral health care services in regional and remote Australia.
Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal
Health Care Administration