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Nurse takes honours for linking homeless people to oral care

RN Cath Flanagan is in the business of bringing smiles to young people's faces.

Her work empowering homeless clients to make decisions to improve their oral health has led to her being named the 2015 Community Oral Health Champion at the annual Dental Health Services Victoria awards.

Flanagan, an RDNS Homeless Persons Program community nurse, focused on young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

HPP manager Theresa Swanborough said the award demonstrated the success of the RDNS partnership with Melbourne’s Merri Community Health Service (MCHS) dental program. “It was obvious that Cath’s nomination was based on their genuine admiration for the work she has done in enabling homeless young people and the dental service to connect and stay engaged,” Swanborough said.

Flanagan played a key role in establishing the partnership in 2012 to build links between the MCHS dental service and RDNS Homeless Persons Program.

MCHS team leader Kerri Collier said prior to this, the dental service was treating few clients who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. The ones the service was treating often visited only when experiencing severe pain.

Flanagan explored how the MCHS dental team engaged with homeless clients and educated the team regarding the barriers many clients experience when seeking healthcare.

“Cath’s commitment resulted in offering a more flexible service that focused on the client, rather than the dentistry,” Collier said, adding the current failure-to-attend rate is low and clients are now completing a full course of care.

Reflecting on one client, who had multiple teeth repaired through MCHS, Flanagan said: “Once she got all her teeth fixed, she sent the dental manager a beautiful photo of her smiling and she said, ‘This is the first time I have been able to smile and my children can see me smile, because I have not been able to do that for the last five years because I was so ashamed and embarrassed about my teeth’.

“This is the sort of social impact that having good teeth makes on our young people.”

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