Jul. 27—MORGANTOWN — "This is a big one, " Monongalia County Health Department Executive Director Anthony DeFelice announced during Thursday's board of health meeting.
"We just signed an agreement with Aetna. They're going to fund $500, 000 for a new mobile clinic and equipment. That's huge."
In other words, Smile Express II.
Since September 2018, a team of oral health ambassadors from MCHD Dentistry has been trading miles for smiles aboard Smile Express—a mobile dental clinic built within a 2005 Winnebago.
The last five years have seen "Smiley " and its trusty spit crew crisscross the region, routinely visiting schools spanning six counties.
In that time the annual work calendar has stretched from four months to nine months each year as the rolling dental office began making regular stops at facilities like WVU Medicine's Center for Hope and Healing and taking on special events, including the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree, which concludes Friday in Fayette County.
All that work would make any Winnebago long in the tooth. Luckily, Smiley has some backup coming.
"This particular version is not going to be like we did before, getting a Winnebago and tricking it out. This will be built to specs, " Monongalia County Health Officer Dr. Lee Smith said.
Smith also hinted there may be some desire to transition the original Smile Express into a more hybrid role, allowing it to assist the MCHD mission beyond dentistry.
"From my perspective we need to look at one for nursing. ... People will always come to the health department, but we need to get out into the community. It's all community-based type stuff. That's where we're doing our vaccines. That's where we're doing the HIV testing. That's where we're doing the tick drags, " he said. "We need to get out of the building."
The original Smile Express was funded primarily through a $175, 000 grant from the Delta Dental Foundation.
DeFelice credited MCHD dental hygienist Tiffany Summerlin as the driving force behind the Smile Express program since its inception ; not only in terms of chasing down the grant dollars, but literally driving the 38-foot RV.
After a year away from the health department, Summerlin returned in March and got to work on the Aetna funding.
"Our problem when Tiffany left is we really didn't have anybody to drive it, " he said, later adding "And kudos to Tiffany. She's been instrumental in securing this funding."
Smile Express has also received support from the West Virginia Oral Health Program ($24, 000), the Monongalia County Commission ($20, 000) and area Rotary clubs ($13, 500).
Monongalia County Commissioner Sean Sikora said supporting the efforts undertaken by MCHD through Smile Express is a highlight during his tenure on the commission.
"We get more return on investment from that project than anything I can think of as far as the ability to change kids' lives, " he said.