Collaboration brings Chicago children brighter smiles

October 8, 2004

A collaboration between Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Walter G. Zoller Memorial Dental Clinics at the University of Chicago, with support from La Rabida Children's Hospital and the Friend Family Health Center, will bring oral healthcare services directly to disadvantaged and disabled children of Chicago via the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile program.

The first comprehensive Ronald McDonald Care Mobile oral healthcare program for children in Chicago will be launched on Wed., Oct. 13, at La Rabida Children's Hospital. This event will be the second stop in a "Day of Oral Health" tour by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, who was instrumental in making dental screenings a requirement for Illinois children entering kindergarten, second, and sixth grade.

"Dental disease is a growing epidemic and there is a desperate need for child dental health throughout Illinois," Quinn said. "We need to increase efforts to prevent oral disease and improve access to adequate dental care. "Tooth decay is the number one chronic illness in children," Quinn said, noting that toothaches are a leading cause of school absences and that tooth decay is five times more common than asthma and seven times more prevalent than hay fever.

Eight feet wide, 13 feet tall and 40 feet long, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is a 26,000-pound dental office on wheels. It contains two fully equipped examination rooms, a digital x-ray system, wheelchair lift, reception and medical records area, plus laptop computers, televisions and VCRs for patient education about dental health and nutrition. It will bring oral exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants, X-rays, fillings, extractions, and information to easily accessible sites.

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile program has been made possible by a philanthropic partnership. Ronald McDonald House Charities contributed the vehicle, at a cost of more than $350,000, in memory of McDonald’s former Chairman and CEO, Jim Cantalupo, who died in April 2004.

The Zoller Memorial Fund, based at the University of Chicago, will contribute nearly $250,000 each year to provide ongoing support for the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile program staff, equipment, supplies and maintenance. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana will contribute $25,000 a year for educational materials. The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is the twenty-first of its kind launched by Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“Today is a great day for children and a living memorial to someone whose giving never stopped,” said Doug Porter, Executive Director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.

“We’re proud to be a part of a program that will bring full-service dental care to so many children who desperately need it," said pediatric dentist Christopher Morin, DDS, clinical associate in surgery and pediatrics at the University of Chicago.

"The Zoller Memorial Dental Clinic staff is excited to welcome our newest associate, Ronald McDonald House Charities, into our efforts to provide dental care to those who can't afford it. Without them, this mobile venture would not be possible.”

Severe Shortage of Dental Care

Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent chronic illnesses facing children in the United States today, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Although damaged or painful teeth and gums can interfere with a child’s diet, speech development, academic performance, social skills and self-esteem, many Chicago children never visit a dentist. The primary reason is cost--the widespread lack of dental insurance and poor reimbursement from insurers--compounded by the shortage of dentists who will accept Medicaid. Many disadvantaged children simply cannot get to a dentist. The closest dentist’s office may not accessible by public transportation, or parents can’t leave work to take their child to the dentist. Many parents also may not be fully aware of the consequences of poor oral care.

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile program will concentrate on bringing dental care to three extremely vulnerable groups:

  • Children from low-income families: About 24 percent of households on the South Side of Chicago live below the poverty line, which is associated with inadequate dental care. Poor children are twice as likely to have dental caries, for example, and their disease often goes untreated.
  • Children with disabilities or chronic illness: Chronic disorders, such as asthma or diabetes, can increase the risk of dental or periodontal disease, which can then compromise nutrition. There is a shortage of dental professionals who are trained to treat children with chronic illness.
  • Children who are wards of the state: Many of these children received little or no dental care during early childhood and have lasting dental health problems.

"This program will make a big difference for disadvantaged children in our area," Morin said, "but it will not solve the shortage. Our program is already booked up through the New Year."

Two days a week, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile will be stationed at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, East 65th St. at Lake Michigan. It will also be at the Friend Family Health Center, a federally qualified health clinic, 800 E. 55th St., two days each week. New sites will be added next year.

Background on Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC)® and the Zoller Dental Clinic

The Walter G. Zoller Memorial Dental Clinics were established in 1936 following a $3 million bequest from Zoller's estate with instructions that it be used to support research, education and dental care for the poor. The clinic is perhaps best known for its leadership role in the Zoller Evanston and Oak Park study, 1946 to 1961, which was crucial in establishing the value of water fluoridation for the prevention of tooth decay; nearly all municipal water systems now add fluoride. Based at the University of Chicago Hospitals, Zoller extended it services to several South Side locations, including monthly oral screenings at La Rabida. The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile will enable Zoller staff to triple the number of children they can care for and increase the services they provide.

Although best known as a center for pioneering research and innovative patient care, the University of Chicago Hospitals is one of the largest providers of care to the poor and uninsured in Illinois. The Hospitals provided $53.4 million of charity care in 2004, up from $51 million in 2003. The University of Chicago Hospitals also operate a pediatric Mobile Healthcare Van that brings medical resources to South Side public schools.

La Rabida Children's Hospital provides comprehensive care for children who have lifelong medical conditions and developmental disabilities. La Rabida also provides the most extensive hospital-based program for neglected and abused children in Illinois. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Jackson Park, La Rabida has been caring for children for more than 100 years.

Ronald McDonald House Charities®, a non-profit, 501(c)3, creates, finds and supports programs that directly improve the health and well being of children through its network of 181 local chapters currently serving in 48 countries. Established in 1984 in memory of McDonald's Corporation founder Ray A. Kroc, the charity makes grants to not-for-profit organizations and provides support to Ronald McDonald Houses and to 21 Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles worldwide. To date, Ronald McDonald House Charities' national body and global network of local chapters have awarded more than $380 million in grants to children's programs, including more than $10 million provided to more than 515 local charities serving children by Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, begun in 1987.

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