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Grand Opening: Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center


I am pleased to share exciting news. Today our founders, philanthropists Gary and Mary West, announced the grand opening of the nonprofit Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center dedicated to serving low-income seniors in downtown San Diego. This is truly an exciting milestone and one that is especially meaningful to West Health and to me personally, because it is deeply rooted in restoring the dignity and quality of life for vulnerable seniors.

It has been an 18-month journey, and we are proud to shine a light on a new model of integrated oral and medical care for seniors who are suffering from an epidemic of oral health problems that have been neglected for far too long.

The new Senior Dental Center takes a comprehensive and coordinated approach that links affordable oral healthcare to a suite of nutrition, case management and wellness services offered at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center.

Through the Gary and Mary West Foundation, the Wests have provided over $2 million to date in grant funding to support this cause. Additionally, to directly support seniors in need, the Wests announced their Foundation will match contributions made by the public to the Senior Dental Center, dollar-for-dollar, up to $250,000.

To view our press release, blog, press coverage and grand opening video, please click on the links below:

We need your help bringing this urgent issue of providing access to affordable oral healthcare for seniors to the national forefront. We hope you will visit and share this information on social media (#SeniorsSmile).

Best Wishes,

Shelley Lyford
President and CEO

Lyford in Sacramento Bee: Older adults shouldn’t have to lose their teeth

The Sacramento Bee publishes an opinion submission by Shelley Lyford about the importance of the Older American’s Act and dental care for seniors. Please read the full text below.

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  • Dental health can significantly impact their overall physical and mental well-being
  • New federal law funds more oral health screenings for older adults
  • State and nonprofit agencies should do more as well

sac bee article picA dental hygienist cleans a 80-year-old Roseville resident’s teeth at her apartment. Manny Crisostomo Sacramento Bee file

By Shelley Lyford

Special to The Bee

They fought our wars, taught our children and built our roads. Yet many older Californians spend their golden years struggling to afford healthy food, a safe place to live or quality health care.

Fortunately, federal lawmakers have taken bipartisan action to help them meet these challenges.

Congress and the president just reauthorized the Older Americans Act, which provides nearly 12 million low-income seniors in California and across the country critical services, including nutrition, transportation and care-giving.

For the first time, the act also sets aside money to cover oral health screenings for seniors. This new provision is crucial, as older adults’ dental health can significantly impact their overall physical and mental well-being.

In California, the population of older adults is growing twice as fast as the general population. On average, more than 1,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. Many of them simply cannot afford dental care.

Oral health has long been overlooked by our health care system, despite strong evidence that bad teeth and gums are linked to malnutrition, heart disease, breast cancer, cognitive decline, diabetes and stroke. Painful or absent teeth can also worsen social isolation and lead to depression.

These consequences are particularly acute for low-income seniors, who typically lack access to affordable oral care. That may force them to live in pain or lose their teeth.

Many of these problems stem from inadequate dental coverage for seniors.

Just three in 10 older Americans have private dental insurance. Fee-for-service Medicare, the largest health insurer for people 65 and older, doesn’t cover routine dental care. Dental services under Medicaid, the health program for low-income Americans, vary by state. Pressure on California’s state budget makes it difficult to provide meaningful and sustainable dental benefits through its Medi-Cal program.

By funding oral health screening for seniors, the Older Americans Act should help California begin to address the problem.

But more support and innovative, coordinated approaches are needed. The University of the Pacific’s dental school, for instance, recently launched a teledentistry initiative that sends dental hygienists into nursing homes and other underserved communities.

We’ve seen this first hand in downtown San Diego, where the Gary and Mary West Foundation will open a community dental clinic inside a popular senior center later this year. The goal is to join high-quality, affordable oral care with comprehensive health care and essential social services, including nutritious meals and mental health services.

The innovative clinic, which will have two dentists and four chairs, will also yield valuable research into the impact of providing comprehensive clinical, dental and social services for seniors. This research could help policymakers develop new models of delivering and paying for senior dental care.

The ultimate goal isn’t just to treat teeth – it’s to treat people’s health and well-being so that they can age with dignity and independence. That’s what all Americans deserve when they reach their golden years.

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Shelley Lyford is president and CEO of the Gary and Mary West Foundation. She can be contacted at

Health Affairs’ GrantWatch focuses on Foundation’s and West Health’s efforts to increase access to dental care for seniors

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Health Affairs’ GrantWatch blog today featured a submission from the Gary and Mary West Foundation’s program officer, Vyan Nguyen, M.D., outlining the journey to develop an innovative approach to addressing critical oral healthcare needs for low-income seniors in San Diego.

The Foundation has already invested more than $1 million to create the state-of-the-art Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, which is scheduled to open later this year and will be an important location for the West Health Institute’s research on coordinating dental care with healthcare and social services for seniors in need. The Senior Dental Center will be integrated within the Senior Wellness Center, providing comprehensive community-based clinical, dental, and social services, all under one roof.

“Every senior visiting the Senior Dental Center will receive a Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment designed to evaluate their functional ability and physical, dental, mental, and other socioenvironmental circumstances to ensure they receive the right care at the right time,” said Nguyen, program officer at the Foundation. “Our goal is to ensure that older adults receive the holistic care and services that allow them to stay healthy, regardless of their ability to pay for services.”

Please click here to read the full post in Health Affairs’ blog. Digest Innovation Spotlight featuring President and CEO Shelley Lyford


Shelley Lyford, President & CEOShelley-Lyford

West Health & the Gary and Mary West Foundation 

Shelley Lyford, President and CEO of the Gary and Mary West Foundation and West Health will be joining us to speak about Successful Aging and Chronic Care. Ms. Lyford and West Health are committed to advancing innovative healthcare delivery models that enable seniors to age successfully.

West Health is committed to making successful aging a reality. We sat down with them to learn more about their initiatives and their impact on Aging Americans.

Why is West Health participating in the Summit 2016?
To engage with key stakeholders on research, policy and advocacy initiatives that make successful aging a reality for seniors, and increase the availability of high-quality home-centered and community-based programs throughout the country.

Tell us your disruptive innovation story. What is West Health working on that changes the game for healthcare and Aging Americans?
Through a combination of applied research, policy and community-based initiatives and outcomes-based funding, the West Health Institute and its related organizations are focused on supporting or developing sustainable healthcare delivery models for seniors that treat the patient holistically, improve the quality and coordination of care, and increase affordability.

Our special focus is on lower-income seniors who oftentimes are dealing with multiple chronic conditions and lack access to high-quality healthcare and social services and support.

Please click here to read the full Innovation Spotlight: West Health with Shelley Lyford.

West Health & Successful Aging

Foundation’s oral health efforts highlighted in Health Affairs’ Grantwatch Blog

April 12, 2015

Health Affairs’ GrantWatch blog publishes a post Oral Health, Veterans’ Health: Tidbits From The Grantmakers In Health Conference highlighting program officer Vyan Nguyen’s recent presentation on the Foundation’s work to advance oral healthcare for seniors at the Funders in Oral Health Policy Group session during Grantmakers in Health’s annual conference. Read the entire post here.

Oral Health Should Not Take a Backseat to General Health, Particularly for Seniors in Need

Despite major advances in dentistry and the ability to prevent many oral healthcare issues, dental disease remains a significant and widespread public health problem in America, and the problem is no more severe than among lower-income seniors, who are struggling to make ends meet and for whom seeing a dentist is a luxury most cannot afford.

This was the subject of a panel discussion I participated in at the 2016 Aging in America Conference #AiA16 in Washington, DC, where increasing attention is being paid to oral health issues as a leading health indicator and how those who need care the most may be the least likely to get it.

Medicare, the largest health provider for people 65 and older, does not cover routine dental care and dental services under Medicaid vary state by state. Further, where a Medicaid dental benefit does exist, access to it is extremely limited due to low reimbursement rates for dentists. About half of the Medicare Advantage plans offer a dental benefit. Low-income seniors  are falling through the cracks.

Oral health has maintained a secondary status in our health system despite the fact that poor oral health in seniors has been linked to poor nutrition, heart disease, breast cancer, cognitive decline, diabetes and stroke. As a society we seem more willing to address the medical consequences of poor oral health in the hospital or emergency room than to deal with it in the dentist’s chair where it belongs and where it is far less complicated and costly to prevent or treat.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), in 2012, there were nearly 2.2 million visits to the emergency room due to dental issues, costing the U.S. health care system $1.6 billion at an average cost of $749 per visit. The ADA estimates that 79 percent of these visits “could be diverted to community settings” and that patients would not only receive better care, but could save the healthcare system millions of dollars.[i]

In downtown San Diego, the Gary and Mary West Foundation and West Health Institute, in cooperation with Serving Seniors, will open the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, a unique community dental clinic that combines access to high-quality, affordable oral healthcare with comprehensive clinical and social services within a senior wellness center.

Our goal is to ensure older adults achieve and maintain long-term dental and overall health, regardless of their ability to pay for services. We hope to demonstrate through this integrated and coordinated care model that it makes far more clinical and economic sense to address dental issues than ignore them.

But we’re not just treating teeth, we’re treating people. Every person that comes to the dental clinic will receive a Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA), a tool designed to evaluate a senior’s functional ability, physical health, dental health, mental health, and socio-environmental circumstances.

This helps us go beyond solving issues in isolation and facilitates access to the broader range of services that can improve the overall health and wellness of seniors. Through the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, seniors have access to more than 30 nonprofit organizations with community-based services that cover nutrition, mental health, health and wellness, housing and social services. We think this community-based model can work for seniors and not only bring smiles back to their faces, but help them enjoy a new level of health and wellness and quality of life.

If improvements in access to dental care, affordability, education and awareness do not occur, oral disease and related health issues may rise to become as big a public health issue as falls, lack of mobility, and cognitive and memory problems among older adults. We must act and employ new models of care that are both affordable and effective. Standing by is no longer an option.

For more information visit

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Shelley Lyford
President and CEO, Gary and Mary West Foundation
President and Chief Executive, West Health Institute



Gary and Mary West Foundation and West Health Institute Commend the House of Representatives for Passing Older Americans Act

Gary and Mary West Foundation and The West Health Institute commend the House of Representatives for passing the Older Americans Act (OAA), critical legislation that strengthens support services for seniors and their caregivers. It also includes, for the first time, oral screenings for preventive care.

“We’re pleased that the House has passed the Older Americans Act which helps provide access to many of the social services and resources that enable our nation’s seniors to age successfully with dignity, quality of life and independence,” said Shelley Lyford, president and chief executive officer of the West Health Institute.

“We look forward to the president’s signature following Senate action,” Lyford said. “We are especially pleased that for the first time, the act recognizes the importance of oral health screenings, which can lead to early detection and prevention—helping to avoid more serious health care conditions for our aging population.”

The bill now includes a provision that allows the aging network to use funds they receive for disease prevention and health promotion activities to conduct oral health screenings, and does not require new or increased appropriations. These types of screenings could be helpful in helping address oral health issues among seniors, which have been shown to be indicators of overall health.

Please click here to learn more about the Older Americans Act from the National Council on Aging, and click here to learn more about the West Health Institute, Gary and Mary West Foundation and Serving Seniors’ efforts to improve oral healthcare for seniors in San Diego.


Meals on Wheels America Grant from Gary and Mary West Foundation to Explore Healthcare Benefits of Meal Delivery for Homebound Seniors

Arlington, VA, and San Diego, CA, February 25, 2016 – Meals on Wheels America has been awarded a grant from the Gary and Mary West Foundation to conduct a retrospective review of the demographic and associated healthcare information of Meals on Wheels recipients to gain insight on the program’s health benefits to Medicare recipients.

Through its grant, Meals on Wheels America is commissioning researchers at the Brown University Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research to leverage data from local Meals on Wheels programs with Medicare health claims information to study the health impacts of receiving home-delivered meals compared to seniors who are non-Meals on Wheels recipients. Called More Than a Meal Phase 2 – Medicare Claims Analysis Study, this project builds on the More Than a Meal pilot study released in March of 2015 and for which Brown University also led the research.

“We hope this research will reinforce the value of nutrition and the importance of Meals on Wheels  services to vulnerable seniors,” said Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. “Ultimately, we hope to show that the Meals on Wheels delivery system – the nutritious meals, along with the daily social contact and routine safety check – has considerable impact on the health and well-being of seniors.”

Findings from this project may signal whether any differences in healthcare utilization can be attributed to the different meal delivery modalities as compared to a matched population of Medicare beneficiaries /non-Meals on Wheels recipients, and will be important information for decisions made at the federal, state and local levels about the availability of nutrition services.

“Homebound seniors depend on organizations like Meals on Wheels to live. Studying the health impacts from delivering these meals is essential to expanding the reach of these services,” said Shelley Lyford, President and CEO of the Gary and Mary West Foundation. “Improving the quality and coordination of care for our nation’s older adults through innovative community-and home-based models is critical to helping our seniors age successfully.”

For more information, visit

About Meals on Wheels America

Meals on Wheels America is the oldest and largest national organization supporting the more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that are dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger. This network exists in virtually every community in America and, along with more than two million staff and volunteers, delivers the nutritious meals, friendly visits and safety checks that enable America’s seniors to live nourished lives with independence and dignity. By providing funding, leadership, education, research and advocacy support, Meals on Wheels America empowers its local member programs to strengthen their communities, one senior at a time. For more information, or to find a Meals on Wheels provider near you, visit

About the Gary and Mary West Foundation

The Gary and Mary West Foundation is a private non-operating foundation solely funded by Gary and Mary West dedicated to helping make successful aging a reality for America’s seniors. Working in collaboration with the flagship Gary and Mary West Health Institute and related Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center, these organizations use applied medical research, policy and advocacy initiatives with outcomes-based funding from the foundation. Collectively, they work to enable seniors to age in place, on their own terms, preserving and protecting their dignity, quality of life and independence.

The foundation, which accepts grant proposals by invitation only, is based in San Diego and is celebrating its 10 year anniversary in 2016. Learn more at, and follow us @GMWFoundation.

Conversations with GIA: Wednesday, February 24, 11:00-12:00 PM PST: Reimagining Oral Healthcare for Our Nation’s Seniors.

Every day 10,000 people turn 65. In 2012, 13.7% of the population was 65 and older; by 2040, this number will grow to 21%, putting an enormous strain on our healthcare delivery system. Poor oral healthcare is a significant health issue for older adults who already face a spectrum of challenges ranging from basic needs such as food, housing, transportation, and fixed incomes to more complex concerns such as managing chronic medical conditions. The Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, scheduled to open in mid-2016, will be a unique community dental clinic that combines access to high-quality, affordable oral healthcare integrated with comprehensive clinical and social services provided to seniors within an existing senior center. The goal is to ensure seniors achieve and maintain long-term dental health, regardless of their ability to pay for services, and will focus on oral health education and improving oral health literacy. Panelists will discuss how the Senior Dental Center hopes to reimagine how we provide oral healthcare for our nation’s seniors and the role that funders can have in achieving this goal.

Karen Becerra, DDS, MPH, CEO and Dental Director, The Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center
Vyan Nguyen, MD, Program Officer, The Gary and Mary West Foundation

John Feather, PhD, CEO, Grantmakers in Aging

Register at

GRANTEE SPOTLIGHT- Urgent Matters Publishes West Health Institute’s Overview of Home-based Healthcare Options at the Emergency Department

Urgent MattersUrgent Matters, a leading academic dissemination vehicle for strategies on emergency department (ED) patient flow and quality, has published the West Health Institute’s “Overview of Options for Home-based Healthcare at the Emergency Department,” a briefing prepared in advance of the institute’s recent Advisory Council meeting on advancing the use of home-based care alternatives to hospital admission for patients in the Emergency Department.

The following overview was prepared in advance of a meeting hosted by the Institute with a diverse group of healthcare leaders to develop a national action plan which enables more seniors to safely go home after an emergency room visit, rather than be admitted to the hospital.

Experts and seniors themselves say home-based care can be a more effective way to treat patients with certain diagnoses, while helping lower the costs of healthcare. The Institute will continue to work with Urgent Matters on promotion of alternatives to admission at the ED.

An Overview of Options for Home-based Healthcare at the Emergency Department

Please click here to see the publication at Urgent Matter’s website – you can also download it as a PDF.

Urgent Matters, from George Washington University’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences, serves as a portal for innovative flow strategies, creating a central resource for hospital staff to discover field-tested initiatives that can be tailored to their organization.