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Colby’s Crossroads…The New Hampshire Leadership Series

Since 1988, New Hampshire residents have been eager to learn, lead, and create change by participating in the New Hampshire Leadership Series through the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (IOD). Now – 34 years later, more than 1,000 people can call themselves Leadership graduates. I am proud to announce that I am a member of the New Hampshire Leadership Series Class of 2022!

The seven-month-long series, which takes place from September to April, is focused on educating people in our state about the many topics that impact people with disabilities and their loved ones, allowing people to share their own experiences, and building a network of people who are ready to make change in our state and beyond. 

Each session, guest speakers joined our virtual meetings to discuss how their personal and professional lives have led them to a life of advocacy and promoting inclusion for people with disabilities. Conversations about the disturbing history of disability in our state as it relates to the Laconia State School, how to effectively participate in community organizing, the push for universal design in classrooms, workplaces, and our communities, and how to actively participate in the legislative process are just some of the many topics discussed throughout the series. 

One of the important aspects of my Leadership experience has been being a part of the Medicaid Adult Dental Benefit Action Group. This topic immediately stood out to me because I have had multiple surgeries on my mouth throughout my life – and have worn a palate expander and braces for many years. In 2017 I had my upper jaw moved forward to better align my teeth, and in early 2020 I had a pharyngeal flap put in. These surgeries have allowed me to chew, breathe, and enunciate my words better. They have also improved the appearance of my mouth and face. Having appropriate dental care has greatly improved my life – and it is scary to know that adults in our state aren’t receiving proper dental care. Not having proper oral care doesn’t just impact your mouth, but negatively impacts one’s entire body. 

Through research, our group discovered that New Hampshire is one of only 10 states in the U.S. that provides only emergency dental benefits for adults on Medicaid. The American Dental Association reports that about 85,000 adults in NH are on either traditional or expanded Medicaid. This means that adults in our state are going in for tooth extractions and other emergency procedures – but are unable to receive the preventative care needed to avoid those emergencies. 

For 20+ years, advocacy organizations such as the New Hampshire Oral Health Coalition and ABLE NH have worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of a bill that would provide adults on Medicaid with preventative dental care. Currently, once an individual reaches the age of 21, dental benefits drop off the Medicaid plan. House Bill 103 (HB103) and Senate Bill 422 (SB422) are currently in the legislature and propose a $1,500 annual benefit to cover cleanings, fillings, and some other minor preventative care (ex: filling a small cavity before it becomes something that would require an extraction). HB103 and SB422 were both passed in their respective chambers with bipartisan support earlier this year – and in late March were switched over to the other for discussion. 

Some of the actions we took included speaking to Gail Brown (Director at the New Hampshire Oral Health Coalition), Lisa Beaudoin (Executive Director at ABLE NH), dental providers in our area and posting on the Leadership Class of 2022 Facebook page to encourage people to support these bills on https://gencourt.state.nh.us/. I look forward to continuing to advocate for preventative oral care for adults on Medicaid in our state. 

Other action groups focused on the topics of mental health, the home and community supports waiver, making the NH state house more accessible, and supported decision making. 

Plans For The Future

On our April 9th graduation ceremony, I shared my goals for the future: 

“One of my goals is to continue advocating for oral healthcare for adults in New Hampshire. This topic is much more complex and in-depth than I ever could have imagined – but just as important as it was when I joined the Action Group about the topic months ago. There are so many other organizations and people in our state who are advocating for HB103 and SB422, and by keeping in contact with those people we could be unstoppable. My goal here is to have conversations with legislators, medical professionals, and other stakeholders in the future – about this topic and other topics important to myself and other NH residents. 

Also, as a writer it is my goal to write stories that are more in-depth, and focus on all of the major issues impacting people with disabilities, their loved ones, and caretakers in today’s society. I want to do this by keeping in contact with current classmates and those from past Leadership classes, mentors, and using resources that I have gained throughout Leadership. One of my goals is to have a story of mine shared/reposted by a current legislator (could be someone I mentioned in the story or someone else) AND have one of my stories be published in a major platform – whether that is online or in a print document. I think that would be super cool!

I believe my motivation to educate and connect with others will allow me to reach my goals.”

Congratulations to the rest of the Leadership Class of 2022 – and thank you to those who put this year’s series together: Deb Genthner (Coordinator), Sarah Sadowski (Director), Marcella Termini (Group Leader), Alicia Buono (Group Leader), Nancy Glynn (Group Leader), Melissa Mandrell (Group Leader), Caitlyn Fulton (Mentee), Ansley Womble (Mentee), and the University of New Hampshire IOD for making Leadership possible!

If you are interested in learning more or applying for the 2022-2023 NH Leadership Series – or would like to nominate someone else, click HERE!

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