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Q&A with Oral Health Coordinator

September 17, 2018 
By Fransisca Meralus

Catalyst Miami has recently hired Fransisca Meralus as our Oral Health Coordinator. We asked her to answer these 5 questions to learn more about what her goals and aspirations at Catalyst Miami are!

1- Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Fransisca Meralus and I am Haitian-American. I was born and raised in Miami and attended Miami-Dade County Public schools, eventually graduating from North Miami Senior High School. I then went on to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. for four years, where I received my Bachelors of Science in Nutritional Sciences.

2- Please share with us your career goals and how the position of Oral Health Coordinator fits into your plan?

Throughout my matriculation at Howard University, I realized a developing passion for service. So what better way to do that than to give back to the community that raised me? Catalyst Miami offers services that equip members of the community with the tools and skills needed to be self-sufficient citizens. With a background in nutrition, oral health is definitely an area that is overlooked and needs to be brought into the spotlight. Catalyst Miami is putting in great effort to make sure that the awareness of oral health in Miami Dade County is a priority, an effort that I am now glad to be a part of.

3- What is the state of Oral Health in our state, county, and city, and why is it important to do this work in our community?

There has been progress made to improve the health of our county, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. For instance, about 98.1% of residents in Miami-Dade are served by community water systems that receive optimally fluoridated water, this is greater compared to the 77.0% average across the state of Florida.

However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Florida has no oral health plan, which is why organizations around Florida, such as Catalyst Miami and partners, are committed to raising oral health as a social justice issue, systemic issue; prioritizing advocacy to improve access to dental care, community education, ongoing communication, and ensuring that oral health services are available to all Floridians.

The Florida Department of Health’s County Health Departments provide School-Based Sealant Program services that as of now serve 51% of students in Florida. These are just some ongoing initiatives, already set in place, that we are working to improve.

It’s important to do this work to change the state of oral health in Florida. The current perception of oral health is a matter of personal hygiene and individual agency. We are working diligently to change that!

Diseases and issues in oral health have shown to link with diseases and issues that affect overall health of a human. Therefore it makes it important for the community to take care of their oral health with the same care they do their overall health, and for public officials to make sure everyone, regardless of socio-economic and legal status, has access to care.

4- What is the Oral Health 2020 vision, and how does your work and the work of Catalyst Miami fit into that vision?

The vision of Oral Health 2020 is to eradicate dental disease in children and improve oral health across the lifespan. My work as Catalyst Miami’s Oral Health Coordinator, is primarily to change the public perception of oral health in Miami through various methods, including working with Miami-Dade Oral Health Network partners to reach members of the community and get their input, raise awareness in Miami-Dade County specific communities by engaging community residents, students, school administrators, etc., in community engagement activities that allow them to share their collective input about the changes they want to see in their communities.

I will also be working on a public education and awareness campaign to change perceptions about oral care, host online webinars focused on oral health care, and advocate for oral health policy changes at the city, county, school board and state level to name a few.

The Oral Health 2020 vision places community residents at the forefront of change, which is exactly what we do at Catalyst Miami, so the work fits perfectly with our mission and the way we engage our partners and community base.

5- What are some of the specific areas of work you’ll be responsible for, and what are some of the ways community members and organizations can get involved?

My specific areas of work include engaging high school age youth in advocating for change at the school board level. Our partnership with the Miami Children’s Initiative has allowed us to work with the youth at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.

In addition to coalition building within the Miami Dade Oral Health Network, I’ll be raising public awareness by participating in community outreach events and launching social media campaigns, facilitating workshops that will train oral health advocates on the current obstacles and realities to oral health care within MDC, and encouraging parent engagement by working with local parent-teacher associations.

We welcome and encourage the participation of anyone committed to improving oral health through education, assessment, policy/program development and collaboration. Please share your interest in participating in The Miami-Dade Oral Health Network by emailing me at: fransiscam@catalystmiami.org. We look forward to collaborating!