The American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry: Improving Quality of Care through Teaching and Research. (Organizational Spotlight)

Article excerpt

Origins of the Academy

In communities and states across the country, Americans with mental retardation and developmental disability (MR/DD) are experiencing significant difficulty in gaining access to quality medical and dental care. This fact has been documented in publicly funded studies and scholarly publications. It is unfortunate, but true, that many large advocacy (including professional advocacy) organizations have not been forthcoming with solutions to this problem--a problem they themselves acknowledge, is of crisis proportions.

In an almost poetic fashion, and out of a shared sense of disillusionment and impatience, a small cadre of physicians and dentists, whose area of expertise is in the care of patients--with MR/DD, created this organization.

I first met Dr. Philip May at the Surgeon General's Conference on Health Disparities and Mental Retardation, held in Washington DC, in December of 2001. During our work at the conference, it became instantly clear to me that he was both a compassionate physician and a reasoned advocate. And it began to dawn on me that he and I shared a very deep and fundamental point of view relevant to two crucial issues.

First, we both understood that if we, as clinicians, were to effectively advocate on a national level, on behalf of Americans with mental retardation and developmental disability, the first necessary step would be to create a national dialogue between the physicians and dentists who care for these special patients.

Secondly, we knew in our souls that no lasting or meaningful progress would ever be made toward parity in access to healthcare for Americans with MR/DD, until mainstream medical and dental schools began to responsibly educate and train the next generation of caregivers in the rudimentary principles of that care.

Several months later we met again, this time with Dm. Steven Zelenski and Mike Kurtz, in Chicago, at the Special Care Dentistry (SCD) Annual Meeting. (SCD had dedicated a track to the collaboration of medicine and dentistry in caring for patients with MR/DD.)

After several weeks of Internet cyber-debate and lengthy phone conversations, the course seemed clear to all of us. On May 14th of 2002, together with several of our equally impassioned colleagues, we officially founded the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry.

In nine short months the Academy has achieved remarkable momentum. We have recruited talented physicians, dentists, advocates and self-advocates from across the country. The members of our board speak to the quality of our Executive, Advisory and Honorary Board leadership. And we have only just begun.

The Academy has formed alliances with other national advocacy organizations and having recently established an alliance with EP Magazine, we are now proudly standing shoulder to shoulder with an organization that has made an incalculable contribution to the well being of thousands of Americans with MR/DD.

A Focused Vision for the American Academy

Clearly, there is a lack of effective advocacy on behalf of persons with MR/DD in a whole host of areas. However, one organization can not hope to solve all the many problems facing this unique group of Americans.

We know, for example, that proper nutrition, adequate transportation and housing, social stigmatization, developing a national commitment to professionalizing the role of the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), and promoting political advocacy are all important areas requiring "full-court" commitment and activism. But, we also know that the most valuable contribution our colleagues and we can make is to contribute our expertise in our area of expertise: Developmental Medicine and Dentistry. Furthermore, we need to laser-guide this expertise, precisely and expeditiously, to where it will have the most significant impact: the universities where physicians and dentists are trained. …