On Monday, Nov. 13, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack visited the University of Washington School of Dentistry where he took a tour of the facilities and hosted a Rural Health Discussion Panel with students, staff, and preceptors from the Regional Initiatives in Dental Education (RIDE) program.
Over the past 4 years, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has invested over $3 million in grant funding to support RIDE distance learning education and increase access to teledentistry services for nearly 90,000 residents in rural communities in WA and MT.
The Discussion Panel featured eleven virtual and in-person stakeholders who represented either the RIDE program or one of the various healthcare clinics across the rural regions of WA and MT. Stakeholders were able to give examples of how the USDA investments and the RIDE program have been able to impact their communities, sharing examples of the challenges they have faced along the way.
“It was an honor to host USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Washington Rural Development State Director and share how USDA grant funding has improved health outcomes for rural communities in WA and MT,” said Regional Affairs Operations Director Jennifer Grant. “We’re so proud of our RIDE students and preceptors and the great work they have done for rural health. We look forward to continuing our partnership with USDA.”
Along with Secretary Vilsack, Washington Rural Development State Director for the USDA Helen Price Johnson, and Grant, stakeholders in attendance included:
- Megan Shank, DDS Class of 2026
- Trevor Bushman, RIDE DDS Class of 2026
- Tony Yan, Family Health Centers (Brewster, WA)
- Ji Choi, Columbia Basin Health Association (Othello, WA)
- Garry Pitts, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Polson, MT)
- Brett Pack, Moses Lake CHC (Moses Lake, WA)
- Roni Holder-Diefenbach, Executive Director, Okanogan Economic Alliance
- Ron Gadeberg, Power Resource and Telecom Manager, Okanogan Public Utility District
- Steve Taylor, General Manager, Okanogan Public Utility District
- Jerry Asmussen, Board of Commissioners President, Okanogan Public Utility District
This visit from Secretary Vilsack was part of the Biden Harris Administration’s ‘Investing in America’ agenda, which includes the USDA’s focus on increasing economic opportunities in rural communities and in the middle class by investing in them from the bottom up and the middle out.
RIDE was funded by the Washington State Legislature in 2007 and the first cohort of RIDE students graduated in 2012. Since then, it has returned over 80 percent of its graduates to practice in rural and underserved areas of Washington and the region. As a regional leader in educational excellence, RIDE has been awarded the 2017 William J. Gies Award for Vision, Innovation, and Achievement for its outstanding contributions to oral health and dental education.