Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), an academic community health system serving Cambridge, Somerville and Boston’s metro-north region, honored Mary Otto, an independent journalist, with its annual Art of Healing Award on June 13 at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge. Ms. Otto was recognized for her role in promoting awareness of oral health struggles and fiercely advocating for vulnerable populations. Mary Cassesso, President, CHA Foundation and Chief Community Officer, emceed the program, and comedian and Cambridge native Jimmy Tingle served as the auctioneer.
The award was presented during CHA’s signature fundraising event, which raised more than $545,000 to benefit CHA’s community health priorities. The Art of Healing Award celebrates visionary men and women who transcend boundaries, embrace humanity and inspire the healing of body and spirit. Past honorees include John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, former Mass. Governor Michael and Mrs. Kitty Dukakis and Donald Berwick, MD, former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Good oral health is an important indicator of the wellness of a person’s overall body but unfortunately, there is a major gap across the country in routine dental insurance. Small issues that begin in the mouth can lead to more complex health issues down the road. According to a 2016 study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cavities are one of the most prevalent chronic diseases of youth in America. Furthermore, youth who have oral health challenges miss more school and have lower grades than children who do not.
In 2007, Ms. Otto wrote about Deamonte Driver, a Maryland child covered by Medicaid who died after bacteria from a dental infection spread to his brain. His story spurred change and increased attention to oral health access for Medicaid children nationwide. It also inspired her to write the book, Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health in America in which she focuses on the oral health crisis and its wide-reaching effects.
“We were thrilled to celebrate Mary Otto and CHA at our Art of Healing Dinner,” said Mary Cassesso, President of the CHA Foundation and Chief Community Officer. “There is a direct connection to underperformance in school and health issues for children. Mary brings attention to the unmet needs in dental services impacting some of our most at-risk populations. A special thanks to our donors who helped us raise funds to support vital programs at CHA including Oral Health, School-based Health Centers, See, Test and Treat, Immigration and Sibling Support. A tremendous thank you to all of the CHA staff and volunteers who made this lovely event possible.”
Photo from left – event honoree Mary Otto, CHA Foundation President and Cambridge Health Alliance Chief Community Officer Mary Cassesso, Cambridge Health Alliance Interim CEO Assaad Sayah, MD, and comedian Jimmy Tingle at CHA’s Art of Healing Award Dinner at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge on June 13. Photo courtesy of Jeff Thiebauth.