The Santa Fe Group is a 501(c) (3), action-oriented think tank with a passion to improve lives through oral health. Since its inception 25 years ago, the Santa Fe Group has been instrumental as a neutral convener, communicator, connector and catalyst to move the needle on critical issues such as oral cancer, dental education reform, children’s oral health, improved primary care access, the importance of linking medical and dental health systems, and most recently, expanding oral healthcare for our nation’s seniors.
Improving Lives Through Oral Health
More than twenty-five years ago a group of five dental educators and scientists began to meet regularly to discuss the future of health care with special reference to oral health, dental education and research in the United States. These five individuals – Drs. Larry Meskin; Dominick DePaola; Michael Alfano; Harold Slavkin; and Arthur Dugoni (the “Founders”) – were well positioned collectively as educators, researchers, policy advocates, professional association and federal program and corporate leaders. Accordingly, they began to address some of the challenging health problems, as well as to seize key opportunities, in the interest of improved health through the integration of oral and general health strategies.
The first issue emphasized by the group, early and effective oral cancer detection, is a good example of the manner in which the group addressed a public health issue to promote health. Armed with national data indicating that, although all dentists are formally trained in the performance of clinical examination to detect oral cancer, only a small percentage actually conduct these examinations regularly on their patients, the group used a variety of tools to begin to change the cancer diagnostic paradigm.
- A now classic editorial, Use it or lose it!, underscoring the importance of conducting regular oral cancer examinations published in the Journal of the American Dental Association by then editor, Dr. Larry Meskin.
- A national call for research programs with emphasis on oral cancer, for both applied and basic research, issued by Dr. Harold Slavkin, then Director of the NIDCR, who, jointly with Dr. Rick Klausner, then Director of NCI, was able to support five Centers for Head & Neck Cancer and a number of hypothesis-driven research grants in the area.
- The creation of the Oral Cancer Consortium, a group of 35 institutions in the northeast, founded by Dr. Michael Alfano, then dean of the NYU College of Dentistry, that began to conduct free annual cancer screenings and "Oral Cancer Walkathons", which garnered much media attention.
These efforts, combined with those of many others, began to make a difference in the perception of dentists and patients about the importance of oral cancer detection. Importantly, subsequent surveys showed that the rates of oral cancer examinations increased significantly. Moreover, other individuals and groups, such as the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF), were launched around that time and a synergistic expansion of the importance of oral cancer detection ensued.
Santa Fe Group members are interprofessional, highly accomplished individuals that include dentists, physicians, nurses, public health advocates, business leaders and scholars. We are organized as a not-for-profit corporation (501c3). Importantly, the SFG serves as a neutral convener communicator, connector and catalyst for change of various thought-leaders and stakeholders who focus on the key evolving issues of the day. Further, SFG also hosts a bi-annual Salon: an invitation-only meeting conducted in the French tradition to gather, discuss, learn and be inspired to take action.
In recent years, the Group has taken on a variety of critical issues including: reform of dental education; the role of dental professionals in childhood obesity; the effect of periodontal care to reduce total healthcare costs; and most recently, the importance of adding a dental benefit to Medicare. As the issues have expanded, so have the approaches that the Group uses. These include national salons; white papers; a comprehensive website and expanded social media activity; editorials; consortium building; and direct engagement with federal entities including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Congressional Budget Office.
The Santa Fe Group brings creativity, innovative problem-solving, and timely attention to key issues, to help define priorities and focus on issues that warrant further exploration for the public good. The Group uses teams of skilled and experienced interdisciplinary professionals to provide the functional framework to:
- Identify and implement solutions
- Investigate and/or formulate policy options, and to
- Apply knowledge and/or skills to the resolution of specific issues
Our passion is to catalyze change that makes a difference. The Group provides a variety of approaches to facilitate and support identified changes, such as:
- Serving as a catalyst for private sector, educational and public partnerships.
- Developing leadership capacity in the health professions and related industries.
- Educating public policy makers on critical issues.
- Raising public awareness of health problems and solutions.
- Stimulating community empowerment.
How We Analyze Critical Issues
The Santa Fe Group explores issues, in a spirit of unbiased inquiry, to seek answers to a broad range of health-related questions:
- How can public and private organizations collaborate to promote improved health outcomes?
- Where can interventions be most effectively applied to overcome public health challenges, now and in the future?
- Can "best practices" from other sectors, regions and disciplines be applied or modified to address these issues?
- What aspects of the knowledge base warrant reassessment?
- What modifiable factors contribute to the outlook for various health scenarios?
- How can sustainable and innovative leadership be recognized and nurtured?
Foster Health Leadership
- Enhance leadership development in health sectors.
- Challenge leaders to propose system innovations to eliminate health disparities and ensure equitable access to health and well-being.
- Expand partnerships with external stakeholders to advance medical-dental integration.
Achieve Oral Health Equity
- Promote oral health literacy of the public, providers, policy makers, payors, and philanthropy.
- Advocate to address the social determinants that support health and well-being.
- Inspire innovation to ensure access to high quality and cost-effective health care, especially for vulnerable populations.
Transform Oral Health Education & Practice
- Strengthen diversity in oral health professions and access to education and training.
- Promote solutions to address the impending health professions workforce shortage.
- Advance inter- and intraprofessional collaborations to transform health care capacity.
- Explore innovative workforce practice models as opportunities to increase access to health care for all.
- Enhance the role of science in oral health education, practice, and policy making.
- Champion the dental profession as an interprofessional stakeholder in comprehensive health care delivery.