Backed by solid research showing that overall health could be improved, missed school days decreased, and millions in productivity losses saved, the Catholic Women’s League is calling for in-school dental screening for all Alberta children in Grades K-12.
The call came in the form of a resolution passed at the annual convention of the Alberta Mackenzie Provincial Council of the CWL, held June 6-7 in Grande Prairie. It’s aimed particularly at assisting those low and middle-income families who don’t have dental insurance coverage.
“An estimated 2.26 million school days are missed each year due to dental related illness, and oral diseases account for productivity losses of over $1 billion per year,” said Clover Oryschak, resolutions chair at the St. Thomas More Council in Edmonton, where the resolution was born.
“Despite the ability of Albertans to purchase supplemental dental insurance that covers dental exam costs for children, approximately 25 per cent of Albertan children under the age of 18 do not receive regular dental care.”
She noted that the necessary co-operation between Alberta’s health and education departments already exists. School children already receive routine vaccinations in Grades 6 and 9 from public health nurses, and in the case of a disease outbreak Alberta Health has access to enrolment records and can follow up with families of students who are not immunized.
At St. Thomas More, CWL members got a good idea of the importance of dental health from their sister Tere Rubio, a Mexican-born dentist who is part of a team that makes annual Holy Week trips to Oaxaca to provide free treatment to the poor.
If left untreated, she said, cavities can cause serious infections in other parts of the body and chronic damage to joints.
“It can be really bad,” she said. “I couldn’t even show them (CWL members) some of the worst pictures.”
As it turned out, the resolutions committee had an ideal mix of expertise to address the issue: along with Rubio, there was a dental hygienist, two nurses, an educator, a researcher, and someone who was familiar with government processes. Their resolution was passed at the CWL diocesan level and then forwarded to the provincial council.
As part of the action plan on the resolution, CWL members will begin lobbying Alberta politicians to implement annual universal dental screenings.
The ideal next step, said Oryschak, would be for Alberta Health to cover the cost of any dental care required as result of a referral from the screening program, for those children without any other form of dental coverage.
When it comes to advocacy, provincial Resolutions Chair Sharon Malec said the impact CWL members can make shouldn’t be underestimated. For example, the League lobbied early for compulsory seat-belt legislation in every province, and more recently lobbied the federal government to drop the pro-abortion attestation it had required for recipients of Canada Summer Jobs grants.
“We have a voice,” she said. “We are taxpayers. We vote. Little do they realize that we are the ones who shape our families’ opinions.”
The provincial council currently has more than 9,000 members in 157 councils across Alberta and the Northwest Territories. In other convention business, attendees voted to establish a voluntary fund by which member councils could support the annual Alberta March for Life.
Mary Hunt, chair of the provincial education and health committee, said participation in the march has grown in recent years, and so have the costs of required road closures, policing and other logistics, to the tune of $22,000 last year.
Each year, the provincial convention attendees also designate a charity to support through a collection taken for their opening Mass. This year, they voted overwhelmingly to send that money to the host Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, to help repair seven churches that have been damaged by smoke or ash from wildfires in northwestern Alberta.
They also bid farewell to outgoing president June Fuller and welcomed a new executive for 2019-21, with Judy Look of St. Peter’s Council in Calgary confirmed as president, and Mary Hunt of Edmonton chosen as president-elect.
An annual highlight is the presentation of the Elsie Yanik Award, named after a longtime League member who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of others in her Northwest Territories community.
The 2019 award went to Gabrielle (Gabe) Simpson of St. Peter’s Council in Calgary, whom Fuller described as “a woman who goes about her business very quietly but touches people’s hearts.”
In addition to being an active member of the CWL and her parish, she volunteers with her husband Sam, a retired soldier, to serve and support families of fallen soldiers, organize commemorative ceremonies, and assist soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Simpson said she was surprised and honoured to receive the award.
“Most of us who volunteer do it because we have a desire to help where we can to make a difference,” she said.
Growing up with 16 siblings, she said her parents “always reminded us that we should be caring and help each other. That was the beginning of my understanding that we should be kind and thoughtful. Of course, I wasn’t always good at it, but as time went on I got better.”
She said she has been blessed by the “truly amazing women who make up St. Peter’s CWL council.”
“They are the embodiment of what volunteering is all about, in the service of God and the Church. They step up without hesitation, and I have to say they are fun to be with, caring, and dedicated to doing the best job they can.”