Article on the Mission of Mercy Dental Program, non-fiction.
By, Jacqueline Adams
Inside the 2011 Oregon Mission of Mercy
The 2010 MOM program was the first Mission of Mercy event to be held on the West Coast. A volunteer-supported mission of care provided to anyone and everyone in need of dental care on a first-come, first-serve basis. Dental professionals and community kindreds donated their time and expertise to any and all in need. By the time the second annual event rolled around, a few changes had been made, and every patient was able to wait comfortably indoors away from the harsh November weather. Clinic doors opened at 4:00am, November 21st-22nd, 2011, and all supplies, procedures, and education were provided to the flood of people from all walks of life with a lack of dental coverage, or coverage that was still too expensive for them to be able to cover their needs. Over 78 organizations partnered for this charitable event that embraced all without any form of discrimination.
As I walked into the Convention Center on MLK Blvd., I hoped it would not be difficult to find the Oregon Dental Association’s Mission of Mercy. Luckily, there were plenty of signs and I found the registration booth immediately. I volunteered for the second shift of the day, which started at noon. Everyone around me had been at the event since between 3:00am and 7:00am, and they were still going strong. Everywhere I looked was a sea of baby blue shirts with “MOM” emblems; I donned my own blue tee and obligatory passes and began my tour with Christina Swartz, the Managing Director from Oregon Dental Association. Christina had been there since the wee hours of the morning, and still showed no signs of fatigue; just a continuous; effervescent glow of passion and pride for the important event blooming all around me. We were also greeted by Dr. Teri Barichello, after 13 years of private practice in Oregon City, Teri joined ODS Companies as their Vice President and Chief Dental Officer. The two women generously showed us around the facility and explained the many areas of practice. I was struck by how massive the space allowed for the dental program was, Exhibit Halls A, A1, and B were all dedicated to patient care. Providing service from 6:00am to 6:00pm both Monday and Tuesday, November 21st and 22nd, I was informed the flood of people at 4:00am was astounding; filling every waiting area seat. The Red Cross provided meals to all present on a first-come, first-serve basis each morning, and I’m sure everyone was glad for the roof and heat on a day when we received two inches of sideways rain.
The flow and organization were amazing. The patients enter through 1st Avenue, and register. I took a registration form and looked it over. No social security or insurance information questioned. Just name, age, address (if you have one), gender, and “Are you in pain”? Yes or No. While you wait for your turn, you can visit the Patient Education booth, where eager and passionate students have set up shop to educate about proper oral care and disease prevention with the utmost respect and sincerity. When it is your turn, you take your Patient Registration form with you through Medical and Dental Triage where chairs and equipment are provided and volunteer Dentists and Technicians ascertain dental needs and whether or not the patient needs pre-meds for the treatments, which are provided on-site. The patient then takes their evaluation to the Routing section, before being led into the huge main hall. In the main room, large, clean, distinct areas of service are outlined with big, clear signs. Everything was pristine and organized, all tools were individually wrapped and sterile, and in the center of the room, two big areas marked “Central Supply” and “Sterilization” contained busy volunteer techs and steaming machines, quickly and skillfully conducting all that was necessary to guarantee the safety of the event.
X-Rays, Fillings, Lab, Prosthodontics, Extractions/ Oral Surgery, “Kid Town”, and the Post-Op areas are all clearly defined and separated. As a patient, you are never alone. From start to finish you have a cheerful volunteer in blue to guide you, walk with you, and be there for you in every way. I can easily see how intimidating an event of that size and sensitivity would be for a patient, and having someone with you alleviates that anxiety. No non-medically based questions are asked, and no judgments are given. I was astounded by the consistency of respect and exuberance shown by every single volunteer, no matter how tired. Dentists, Hygienists, Pharmacy, Technicians, Students, Assistants, and Community Volunteers alike, all with a common goal, all with the same level of conviction, respect, and an overwhelming passion for providing care and education to all in need. The Oral Surgery and Numbing areas were tastefully and respectfully covered and private, and the Post-Op area involved data entry, EMT’s, Medication if needed, including information about local dentists who had agreed to treat patients from MOM in days following care, and the exit interview.
Christina had explained to me that no questions were asked at the beginning of the process, due to the desire to keep people comfortable and assured that they would not be turned away from care. After their service though, questions were asked to better understand their demographic, and only once the care was provided and the patients were safe and secure. I started to wonder what these “questions” might be and whether or not people were uncomfortable answering them. I went straight to the booth and asked for a copy of all questions asked. Never at any time during my six hours there was I in any way denied or faced with hesitation. I received the questions readily. To my delight, all the questions were respectful. How far did you travel to get here? How did you hear about us? How many of your family members received treatment today? When was the last time you visited a dentist, and if it’s been awhile, what are the reasons? Were you in dental pain before today? How long have you been in pain? What, if any, insurance do you have that pays for dental care?(this was interesting because you had already received your care and were free to go at this point.) and then a few questions about tobacco use that were used for a study conducted by OHSU targeting tobacco use and oral health. Nothing creepy, nothing invasive, just a genuine interest in understanding those in need. I was very impressed, seeking dental care is scary enough without adding an inquisition and I’m happy to report no such nonsense occurred at the Oregon Mission of Mercy.
The level of care was astounding; unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even with the overwhelming number of patients, all health professionals treated each patient as if he/she were the only one. I met a man receiving a “flipper”, several teeth in front were missing and he was being given those teeth back in the form of a removable plate with teeth (it looked really good). Anyway, the patient was in the Dentist’s chair with two hygienists seeing to his needs and a Dentist extremely intent on finding the right fit. “How does that feel?” the doctor asked the patient, “It looks like it feels a little off, is it a bit uncomfortable?” The patient admitted it wasn’t quite right, and with gentle and skilled hands and demeanor, the doctor and hygienists worked with the apparatus until it was right, and comfortable. Smiles, patience, skill, and dedication were in the minds and hands of every professional I saw. “There was a deaf man that had waited overnight to receive treatment. His sister was on her way to act as his translator, but he had already started the registration process and was struggling to communicate. We made an announcement over the loud speaker looking for a translator and when we realized we had no volunteer on at that time to help, a fellow patient walked up and offered to help as he knew sign language. He was able to translate for the man until the arrival of his sister and then returned to the clinic floor, having given up his spot in line to help out, to receive the remainder of his treatment. As this was our second year doing the clinic in the same place something amazing occurred when we all realized just how many of our volunteers were actually patients at last year’s clinic. They had returned to help others and to pass along the goodwill, that they had received the year before. It just goes to show how powerful of an impact the clinic has on people,” Recalls Dr. Barichello.
I made my way over to the “Kid Town” area, designated for child dental care, and saw a large RV titled “Tooth Taxi”. I inquired about it and was immediately drawn into the vehicle by excited and cheerful volunteers. The Tooth Taxi is a 38-foot van modified into a pristine and up-to-date dental office with two chairs and a waiting room. It was gorgeous! I learned the Tooth Taxi travels to Elementary, Middle, and High Schools all around Oregon, parks in each school’s parking lot for a week at a time, and provides free dental care and education to the kids…seriously? How amazing is that?! I had no idea so many people in the dental industry cared so much about the lack of care and insurance provided to people in Oregon. Dentists and Hygienists alike donate their time and skill, happily, with zeal, for those who need it. Amazing.
I was surprised at the demographics patients represented at the event. The early morning flux consisted of a great deal of homeless people seeking care, but when I was there, in the afternoon, I saw students and families and professionally dressed men and women in the dentists’ chairs and the waiting areas. With our lacking health care system, the need is great and covers many.
I have attended many volunteer events, and I have witnessed many different programs and foundations, but I have never in my life been part of an event so truly and completely unified in a common goal of pure care and passionate dedication. Everyone I met, from Program Directors and Dentists to Hygienists and Technicians to Students and people from the community; all united, all passionate, all believers in care, healing, comfort, education, and respect. Regardless of what local Practice or Organization they came from, and there were many, everyone wore the same scrubs, displayed the MOM emblem in a united front. No egos, no brand-dropping, no hint of personal gain. I didn’t think that existed anymore. Dr. Barichello agrees, “I have volunteered in many different ways, in varying capacities with other organizations but nothing compares to what is accomplished over the two days of clinic at OrMOM. We make an immediate and often profound impact on the lives of thousands of fellow citizens. It is an amazing gift to give back to the community and to meet someone while they are first standing in line, to hear how long they have struggled with dental pain or missing front teeth, and then to see them as they are going through their exit interview, beaming, sometimes crying with happiness. It is also inspiring to arrive onsite at 4:30 in the morning and see the hundreds of volunteers stream in to the clinic. The collective goodwill is powerful.” The stats on this year’s event are not available yet, but I have been informed more patients were served this year than last, and last year there were 1,554 patients, 1,244 volunteers, and $829,119.15 worth of free treatment provided. My faith in humanity is restored once again.