Jeffrey Parker was named Feb. 12 as an Ashoka fellow. Ashoka: Innovators for The Public is a Virginia-based nonprofit that advocates for social entrepreneurship in more than 70 countries.
Although not a dentist himself, Parker is the first person in the dentistry field in the U.S. — and the first Alabamian — to have been selected as an Ashoka fellow since the organization started the program in 1981.
Parker joins other notable Ashoka fellows such as the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. Prospective Ashoka fellows are nominated by another person, then undergo a rigorous series of interviews and an extensive selection process, according to the organization’s website.
“I think it speaks to the work that we’re doing,” Parker said. “It speaks to the mission of this organization, and to the mission of the organizations that we’re affiliating with out-of-state.”
Anniston-based Sarrell Dental has seen more than 550,000 patients without a single patient complaint, Parker said. Sarrell operates 14 clinics statewide, serving Medicaid-eligible children, who are often underserved by traditional dental practices.
In the waiting room at Sarrell Dental’s Anniston office Monday, a young girl asked her mother if she’d have to have a tooth pulled.
“No,” said the mother. It was just a checkup.
It’s that preventive care that Parker said children on Medicaid often go without, which results in additional costs to taxpayers and poor dental health in those children.
Parker, formerly an executive at ConAgra Foods, Sara Lee and General Foods Corp., said even as Medicaid rolls are increasing most dentists are seeing fewer and fewer Medicaid patients because they reimburse at lower rates than insurers and patients who pay with cash.
A June 2013 study by The Pew Charitable Trust found that in 2011 more than 14 million children enrolled in Medicaid did not receive any dental services.
The study also found that despite the fact that low-income children are almost twice as likely as their wealthier peers to develop cavities, privately-insured children were almost 30 percent more likely to get dental care than children on Medicaid or other government programs in 2010.
In a statement on the Ashoka Foundation’s website, representatives were quoted as saying, “Jeff is proving that diligent measures of efficiency and management can achieve a viable nonprofit model of dentistry. This breakthrough is making dental care accessible to the more than 14 million children on Medicaid who currently go without any oral health care.”
Parker becoming a fellow comes after he was profiled in December in Health Leader magazine’s HealthLeaders 20, a nationwide list of people who are changing health care for the better.
The national exposure Sarrell Dental is getting has kept Parker busy, he said, answering calls from other dental chains and medical organizations looking to partner with the nonprofit.
“Our business model is getting tremendous recognition and validation,” Parker said.
In September 2013, Sarrell Dental partnered with the Massachusetts-based nonprofit DentaQuest Care Group; Parker became CEO of DentaQuest Healthcare Delivery.
Shortly thereafter Parker was contacted by Community Dental Care, a 12-office Texas-based nonprofit dental chain that treats HIV-positive patients as well as homeless adults. Sarrell and DentaQuest recently merged with the Texas dental chain, and Parker was named chairman of Community Dental Care as well.
Other partnerships with organizations and universities are being discussed as well, Parker said, but he declined to name them, saying those announcements might come within the next several months.
“I think we’ve proven that we can eliminate cavities among the poorest children in the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the United States,” Parker said.
It will only be easier to replicate that success in places without such economic disparity, he said..
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
Editor's note: This article has been modified to correct information about other Ashoka fellows. Toms shoes founder Blake Mycoskie is not an Ashoka fellow.