CDHA president: California hygienists are 'confident' about independent future

Feb. 19, 2018
Lory Laughter, RDH, answers five questions about the California Dental Hygienists' Association, which is in its second year of independence from the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

In June 2016, delegates for the California Dental Hygienists’ Association met in a downtown Fresno hotel to make a first-of-its-kind decision—debating on whether to secede from the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). The hot temperatures outside would have been record-setting for early June in most American towns outside of the San Joaquin Valley.

Temperatures inside the conference room were also hot at times. Delegates debated the secession repeatedly in executive sessions through the first two days of state association’s house of delegates annual meeting. The top three officials for the ADHA—its executive director, president, and regional trustee—waited outside in the hall along with other onlookers, waiting to answer questions about the impeding vote.

The final act of secession was a refusal to sign a document, termed a charter agreement by the ADHA. California’s dental hygiene association primarily objected to financial issues involved with signing the charter agreement. But, by the end of the weekend, it was clear that California’s dental hygienists simply felt they could accomplish more through self-rule.

The name remains the same: The California Dental Hygienists’ Association. The association, however, is independent from the ADHA and the associations affiliated with the other 49 states.

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS, is the second CDHA president under the association’s new status of “independent.” We asked her five questions below about the “new” CDHA. A disclaimer before we begin: Laughter has a long history with DentistryIQ and PennWell, primarily as a columnist for RDH magazine.

DentistryIQ: In 2016, the California Dental Hygienists’ Association became an independent dental hygiene association. How has this impacted membership? I think many dental hygienists outside of California wonder if there has been a resurgence of interest in a dental hygiene association. Are there any statistics that you can share with us about growth, or lack thereof, with the dental hygiene association?

Laughter: CDHA has seen a generally upward trend in membership since the June 2016 decision to become an independent association.

I think the action of becoming an independent association is not the sole reason for the upward trend, however. The steps the CDHA leadership has been able to take as an independent association, and the added member benefit programs that were put in place, have resulted in a very positive impact on membership.

Almost right away, CDHA implemented a "New Professional Membership" category that was not available in the tripartite association structure. The new category offers 50% off membership dues for the first two years of membership to recent dental hygienist graduates. CDHA is on pace to have over 400 "new professional” members join by the end of the 2018 school year.

There is always a growing stage for a new organization. CDHA fits the mold of new as we are not yet two years old. Even in light of this fact, since July 1, 2017, CDHA has averaged more than 50 new members per month—a great increase in new members from previous years.

One of the leading factors of the increase in new members is attributed to the Group Disability Insurance Program that is self-administered by CDHA and began on July 1, 2017. Over 30% of new members also enroll in a short-term and/or long-term disability insurance coverage. These benefits have also brought in new members from out of state who wish to take advantage of the rates and benefits offered.

CDHA, which always looks for more ways to advocate for the increase in scope of practices, for the first time in many years held its Legislative Day in 2017 where members met directly with their legislators advocating for issues impacting dental hygienists. CDHA's legislative advocating firm, Aaron Read & Associates, provided members with the tools and talking points to have their voice heard at the legislative level. More legislative days are planned for 2018 and will continue on a regular basis. The response from legislatures to the issues discussed with the RDHs who represented CDHA was extremely positive.

As we implement these new events and member benefit programs, CDHA has continued to hit its member renewal goals and attract more non-member hygienists to the association.

DentistryIQ: As I recall, the decision to create a separate association was not unanimous. Do you think you the association has made any strides in unifying California dental hygienists?

Laughter: The decision to start an independent association was not unanimous, but as you will recall from the vote in June 2016, it was also not close. The decision was decided by a very wide margin.

In my experience, the majority of California dental hygienists who did not want to separate still understand why it was done. They did express disappointment that an agreement acceptable to the business needs of CDHA could not be reached, but in the end understood the need to become independent. There are some who are still upset, and I have made myself available to talk to any or all of those RDHs. Julie Coan, immediate past president, made that same offer.

The biggest negative feedback I get is from out of state RDHs who do not have the full story. They draw upon loyalties and half-truths to remain in a state of discontent.

On the other side, membership from states outside CA is growing. Partly for the member benefits offered and partly because some understand the unique circumstance of California's stance. Right after the separation, I was approached by association presidents from three other states asking questions about our decision and all were very supportive.

CDHA continues to address the needs of all California dental hygienists, members or not. As we hear and address the concerns of our members, nonmembers also benefit. To this end, I would like to see even nonmember RDHs at our legislative day in March. Their concerns are ours and together we can make progress. CDHA is a member association, but our mission is for the health of our population and we need all dental hygienists to achieve that goal.

DentistryIQ: What are the concerns that you are seeing in advance of Legislative Day?

Laughter: Our biggest concern is always the health of the public. There are still barriers to preventive care for citizens that need to be addressed. The restrictions imposed by the Department of Health Care services on the RDHAP are a focus area where CDHA believes the barriers can be addressed. And, ultimately, be a part of the resolution.

Labor laws and the misclassification of the RDH as an independent contractor is also a concern to address. CDHA is collaborating with the California Dental Association to get facts to employers and employees alike. Letting legislators know these concerns in a face-to-face way brings attention to the dental hygiene profession. Through open discussion at the state government level, I believe we can accomplish big things for the RDH community.

By educating those in government on the role, ability and education of the RDH, we bring awareness that cannot be achieved in any other way. Positive impact is the best impact we can make.

DentistryIQ: What type of demographic factors are at play among hygienists in the nation’s third largest state? Are their challenges in priorities between rural vs urban, or north vs south?

California is a large geographic state, but we are also a state that adapts to any hurdle.

CDHA strives for leadership from the northern, central and southern areas of the state. A balance helps CDHA keep the priorities and needs of all the areas in mind. Yes, there are some smaller areas that create travel obstacles, but it does not hold us back. In fact, we have leadership from the far outlying areas who take the time and effort to attend meetings, workshops, and events. As with most things in our great state, “We make it work."

I am proud of the diversity of California, and I think it makes us strong. Our members and leaders come from a wide range of backgrounds and work together to pursue our mission: To advance the art and science of dental hygiene, increase the public's awareness of the cost effectiveness of prevention, ensure access to quality oral health care, promote the highest standards of dental hygiene education, licensure and practice, promote dental hygiene research and promote the interests of dental hygienists.

California is at the forefront of change and early implementation because we are not afraid of challenges, and we know strength comes from collaboration.

DentistryIQ: As the association prepares to enter its third year as an independent association, how do you feel about the association’s future as its president?

Laughter:I am confident about the promising future of CDHA. As a new organization, we made goals for success, and we are reaching those goals. It is exciting to be a part of the change, and I know our future leaders will continue CDHA’s long history of success. There is no challenge too great for the dental hygienists of California. CDHA has been involved in many advances in our laws and scope of practice. Our presence is known at the state capitol, and the respect we receive there is unparalleled. The only direction we look is forward and whether we move by leaps and bounds or steady steps, we know where we are going and we're staying on the path.