When Dr. Brad Krusky and his twin sister were approaching their 50th birthday, they had an idea. They wanted to start a charitable venture fund. The “Twin Starfish” were going to match donations made at their 50th celebration to the Twin Starfish Fund. By appealing to his community of friends and colleagues, the fund grew. Dr. Krusky was able to use networked philanthropy to increase the fund’s potential and reach.

Network Philanthropy

Network philanthropy – is when you leverage your sphere of influence to further your fundraising and/or social change objectives. This is typically driven by a donor or donors, and the network is activated for both “treasures” and “time.”

A specialist in pediatric dentistry, Dr. Krusky has been treating young patients in the Calgary area since 1999. As an active volunteer and Clinical Director of Dentistry for All (“DFA”) since 2003, he also volunteers internationally. He has led over 20 missions to Guatemala to provide dental care and education for people without current access. DFA has established two permanent community clinics and has welcomed dentistry volunteers from all over North America to continue treatment outside of the dedicated mission trips. 

The Alex Dental Bus

The first Alex Dental Bus bus became operational in 2013. The bus travels to high-needs areas in Calgary to treat children who would otherwise not have access to dental care. Children receive screening, fluoride treatments, and education on oral health during these visits.

Due to the age of the first bus, and advances in design and technology, a new bus was commissioned in 2021.

From September 2020 to June 2021, the Dental Bus Program educated 1997 students on oral health. It also screened 923 children, of which 45% had untreated decay. Early screening and education helps children become comfortable with dental treatment. Education helps children develop healthy dental habits, helping to prevent early cavities and decay. Early intervention and prevention will help prevent the cascading health issues associated with inadequate oral health. While making a difference, these numbers represent a fraction of the need in a city the size of Calgary.

Often, children need referrals for further treatment beyond the capabilities of the bus. It is at the treatment stage where the assistance and available subsidies leave a gap. Insufficient funding exists between needs and the services covered.

Current Funding Gaps

In Alberta, Well-Child medical check-ups are paid for by the provincial government. Additionally, annual eye exams for children are covered. “Why,” Dr. Krusky questioned, “do dental check-ups not qualify under the same criteria as being a health care need?” . When balancing prevention versus intervention, Dr. Krusky sees many opportunities to ease the burden on the system. One of those opportunities is to implement more widespread and strategic prevention care for all children.

Alberta currently has one of the highest dental care fee guides in Canada. New patient exams, which may include x-rays, a cleaning, scaling teeth and a clinical examination, may approach $400. A Pediatric exam fee is up to 15-20% higher, as it is a specialized service. When looking at the newly announced federal dentistry program and lining it up across the current provincial child benefit, Dr. Krusky fears for the children who may fall through the gaps. The Provincially funded Alberta Child Health Benefit pays dentists 30-40% less than the fee guide to treat eligible patients. Without a cap on the maximum amount, dentists can treat what is needed for the patient. However, the program dissents Dentists from providing full care. The compensation for services is less than half of what a full-paying patient (or patient with private healthcare) will pay. 

Even with the Federal subsidy, children are only eligible for $650 each year, over two years. This annual amount covers little more than diagnostics, and perhaps one treatment appointment. Determining treatment needs uses the majority of available funds, leaving minimal funds for the actual treatment. Diagnostics will use the majority of available funds leaving minimal funds for treatment.

The Dental Access Network

Wanting to do more on a local scale and make the experience better for the children, Dr. Krusky helped create the Dental Access Network (DAN). Working with The Alex, the program has high-needs children referred to a regular dentist, building comfort and familiarity. Under the DAN, dentists perform essential treatment for patients using a sliding scale fee structure that each family could afford. The dentist absorbs the balance for 1-2 patients per year. There is a city-wide support system for owners and dentists to track and manage patients. 

Dr. Krusky has used his network to strengthen the DAN, as well as manage the patients referred into it.

Dr. Krusky projected that if half of the dentists approached treated one to two patients per year, the majority of clients The Alex sees annually would have access to essential care. Unfortunately, the response has not been as robust as hoped. Thankfully, of those who did volunteer the majority of patients’ needs were met. If you are interested in participating please reach out to Dr. Krusky for more details.

Looking Ahead

Not easily discouraged, Dr. Krusky knows there is more work ahead and isn’t afraid to keep working on this problem. In 2023 the Twin Starfish Fund and Karma & Cents will be hosting a Social Impact Lab. This initiative will explore the role that philanthropy can play in addressing Dental Care for marginalized citizens. Stakeholders will come together and work through this problem and generate solutions. With additional clarity on the Federal program, the social impact lab can look at potential gaps and see where the fund can have the most impact.

There is little doubt young smiles will be improving across Calgary as Dr. Krusky and the Twin Starfish Fund tackle this issue.

Dr. Krusky feels very fortunate for the opportunity to work in this field and train with amazing mentors like the late Dr. Steve Baylin. He speaks highly of what he has learned as a professional and a human in looking after your community and using your privilege for good. Do you have a cause you are passionate about impacting? Contact us today to find out how to start a donor-advised fund or to explore social impact labs for your existing fund.