Minter-Jordan joined the DentaQuest Partnership in 2019 — after 12 years at the Dimock Center, a community health center in Roxbury — and served as chief executive officer from Feb. 2020 through its transition into the larger company. The CareQuest Institute will acquire the assets of the Catalyst Institute , the holding company for DentaQuest, which owns 15 clinics in Texas, Alabama, and Kentucky. The new company has a full or majority ownership stake in DentaQuest, Delta Dental of Massachusetts, and Sarrell Dental, as well as a for-profit arm called CareQuest Innovation Partners.
The CareQuest Institute plans to “super charge” systemic change surrounding oral health care nationally through grant making, research, education, policy advocacy, and innovation. Over the past few years it has awarded $10 million to $15 million annually in grants to organizations across the country that share its mission. Minter-Jordan said the organization now plans to increase that amount.
The launch of the CareQuest Institute comes at a time when the pandemic has highlighted longstanding inequities, including access to dental care.
“The time is now for a company like our to establish itself as a leader, convener, partner, and collaborator,” Minter-Jordan said. “Oral health is something we all must focus on if we truly will be comprehensive in our approach to health care that is equitable for everyone.”
The CareQuest Institute conducted a national survey over the past year and found that roughly 6 million Americans lost their dental insurance due to a job loss or benefits change caused by the pandemic. The survey highlighted that Black Americans suffered a loss of coverage at a rate that was more than double that of white individuals, and Asian Americans were three times more likely than white individuals to have lost coverage.
“Our health care system is broken,” said Minter-Jordan. “As we lift up the data behind that, our goal is to help influence health care transformation.”
Minter-Jordan said the disparities are not new: Poor oral health has always disproportionately affected communities of color, poor and rural communities, and older populations.
Medicare does not cover dental care, and for low-income adults served by Medicaid, oral health coverage is not guaranteed. In October, the Globe reported that nearly 4,000 Boston public school students were left without an opportunity to see a dentist or hygienist due to remote learning.
“Oral health care, like primary care, faces serious challenges from outdated approaches to care delivery, payment, and data exchange that result in systemic barriers to optimal health for millions of people,” said Russ Phillips, the director of the Center for Primary Care at Harvard Medical School, in a statement. “The dedicated scientists, researchers, clinicians, and public health experts at the CareQuest Institute not only offer a deep understanding of these barriers but practical solutions working with communities to advance real systems change.”
With its new independence, the CareQuest Institute will be able to advocate for policies at the state and federal level. Some of the organization’s initial priorities include promoting the inclusion of dental care in Medicare and Medicaid plans and championing the continued adoption of tele-dentistry, which expands access to care, particularly for individuals in rural communities.
The nonprofit will generate revenue through its clinics, stakes in dental benefit companies, and its for-profit arm, CareQuest Innovation Partners, which will serve as a “convener, investor, and partner” in the oral health innovation ecosystem. The CareQuest Institute has roughly 50 full-time equivalent employees, and it plans to hire about 15 more workers by the end of the year. By 2023, Minter-Jordan said the organization expects to double in size.