Northeast Delta Dental Supports America’s Promise of Equal Access to Justice

by | Oct 19, 2021 | Diversity | 0 comments

Northeast Delta Dental’s mission is to advance the oral health and overall wellness of our customers and the general public in part through our philanthropic initiatives.

Earlier this month, we were the Presenting Sponsor of the NH Campaign for Legal Services’ first Run/Walk for Justice 5k, supporting New Hampshire Legal Assistance and 603 Legal Aid. I was honored to speak at the event and would like to share with you more about why Northeast Delta Dental supports legal aid.

I joked at the race that all I knew about court, I learned from television, where I got the impression that everyone who needs a lawyer is given one. But that’s only true for some criminal cases, and leaves thousands of people on their own for civil matters.

Legal aid attorneys and paralegals provide advice to people who face the imminent threat of homelessness; they represent victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse; they ensure that people seeking justice have a voice in all arenas where decisions are made that affect their lives and their families’ safety.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance and 603 Legal Aid have been key resources for Granite Staters in crisis over the last 18 months, as the pandemic and economic crisis washed over our communities.

This commitment to justice is not new. New Hampshire Legal Assistance is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Over those decades, they have fought and won many major cases, including one that changed oral health care for children in low-income families.

This was the kind of work that can really only happen when a team of legal aid attorneys and paralegals are well-rooted in their community.

NHLA attorneys and paralegals heard from clients and from colleagues at other agencies that families who used Medicaid for dental coverage were finding it impossible to secure dental care. The rates the program paid to dentists were so low that few dental providers were willing to see Medicaid patients. 

Years of intense litigation and trial preparation – interspersed with equally intense settlement discussions and mediation – produced a 36-page consent decree, approved in January 2004. The consent decree led to a wholesale reform of the state’s Medicaid pediatric dental benefits, and reset the standard for beginning children’s regular dental care at age one, rather than age three.

This work was not easy, or quick. It received little public adulation at the time, but this change has provided children in low-income households with critically important dental care and related services valued well over $10 million per year.

The children who have benefitted from these increased dental services have something big to smile about — especially those first children who are now entering the workforce.

As an employer, we at Northeast Delta Dental understand that when employees do not have access to legal assistance, their attendance and work performance is directly impacted.

When employees are upset or stressed over personal legal issues such as divorce, domestic violence or an imminent threat of homelessness from an eviction, this takes a toll not only on the employee and his or her family, but on the company as a whole.

New Hampshire’s business community has benefitted for 50 years from the skills, persistence and compassion that typify NHLA staff. Every day, they and the staff at their partner 603 Legal Aid receive more calls for help than they can meet.

We in the business community owe it to them, to our employees, and to the people of New Hampshire, to support the fundamental American promise of equal access to justice.

Tom Raffio
October 2021

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