Smiles tell the story at Mission of Mercy
By Dave Bergmeier
More than 1,000 patients wore smiles as they were recipients of free dental care thanks to a Kansas Mission of Mercy project Feb. 28 to March 1 in Dodge City, Kan.
The Western State Bank Expo Center, on the south side of the community of about 27,000 people, served as a large-scale waiting and patient area. Meals were provided for those who came to use the service.
Richard “Rick” McFadden, Dodge City, a dentist for more than 25 years, said patients lined up at 10 p.m. each night and the expo center was able to set up an area where patients could stay and be protected from the cold and wintry weather. A waiting room with 1,000 folding chairs opened about 3 a.m. and registrations were started.
A physician and nurses helped with medical screenings in a triage area. Patients could eat a biscuits and gravy breakfast, beginning at about 4 a.m., and they could also eat lunch. They also had an opportunity to learn about dental hygiene basics.
The Dodge City dentist said the Mission of Mercy is an appropriate name. People tend to associate missions with overseas trips.
“A lot of people say why go elsewhere when we have so much need here,” McFadden said as he looked around the temporary mercy clinic and saw the need. “That’s what kept us going.”
During the two-day clinic 1,182 people were helped with an estimated value of $803,590. On Feb. 28, about 645 people were helped with a value of $518,660. Patients and dental care providers left early in light of a winter weather storm on the afternoon of March 1.
Patients ranged from young children to one man who was age 90.
The event was well-publicized and McFadden also had gone to Fort Dodge, Kan., on Feb. 24, and told elderly veterans who lived there about the mission and he encouraged them to use the service.
The overall process was designed to streamline the process for patients who needed the service, he said. All the patients were asked, from a dental standpoint, was to give an honest assessment of their need.
“Extractions were the most common,” McFadden said. “We were getting people who had chronic pain. They cannot afford treatment and the problem they had affects their quality of life.”
Filling cavities and teeth cleanings were other services provided, he said. Each patient during registration was asked to prioritize his or her need. If time allowed, a patient could have a second priority addressed, but he or she had to wait until the other high-priority patients’ needs were finished.
As reported earlier by the High Plains Journal, dental care is considered a top priority for those in the industry who also recognize that the expansiveness and other issues make it difficult to meet needs of some people who live in rural areas.
Brett Roufs, a Newton, Kan., dentist since 1996, drove about 150 miles westward to participate in the clinic. Roufs has participated in 11 of the 13 missions. On Feb. 28, more than 80 children were a part of the clinic and there were only three no-shows, which was an important indicator of the need, he said.
Hygienists, dentists, oral surgeons, and related services were all part of a team with a capability of serving more than 1,000 people a day, if needed. There were 113 dentists and 93 hygienists signed up to help with the two-day clinic, according to Greg Hill, executive director with the Kansas Dental Charitable Foundation, Topeka, Kan. Providers came from all regions of the state.
Temporary tents were in place for children and extractions areas with patient privacy in mind, Roufs said.
Most of the dental equipment was supplied by the America’s Dentist Care Foundation, a charitable organization that helps the Missions of Mercy in 26 states. Some dentists and hygienists brought their own specialized equipment, the dentist said.
“It is hard to put into words or explain all my thoughts,” Roufs said. “I feel it is something that helps a community overall with its health and I love to help and make a difference.”
Helping people and hearing them say “thanks” was heart-warming to him.
“I think the providers enjoy giving back, knowing that they are making a difference in the lives of each individual person who is treated,” Hill said. “People think of the Kansas Mission of Mercy clinic as big numbers. The providers see the individual patients.”
McFadden said the idea of the clinic was to help as many people as possible. When people were registered only the most vital information was sought and people at any income level were accepted.
McFadden was a co-chair of the local planning committee, along with Richard Stein, also a Dodge City dentist.
Both men said the volunteer spirit from the Dodge City region was instrumental in the success of the Kansas Mission of Mercy and was recognized by dental care providers. Almost all materials and supplies were purchased locally.
“They had nothing but good to say about it,” McFadden said.
“Dodge City did a wonderful job,” Roufs said.
About $160,000 was raised to help with the project, which exceeded the planning goal of $120,000.
Organizers believe the Kansas Mission of Mercy helps address an important health issue. Oral care is critical to a person’s health, Roufs said.
“It’s the first place where food goes is into your mouth,” Roufs said. “We like to say, if we have a healthy mouth we’ll have a healthy body.”
Also, he said relieving the pain from a toothache can help a person’s demeanor, which is also important to their quality of life. Dental care can help patients and physicians catch early signs of cancer as well as heart and blood circulation issues, the dentists said.
Since its inception in 2003, the Kansas Mission of Mercy has served about 24,000 patients and provided about $14.5 million in free dental care, Hill said.
The first project, in 2003, was in Garden City, Kan. The 2015 mission is planned for Salina, Kan.
“We usually begin planning at least a year out,” Hill said. “We’ve already had meetings in Salina to begin to get ready. About six months out, things really begin taking shape.”
More information on the Kansas Dental Charitable Foundation and KMOM is available at www.ksdentalfoundation.org.
Dave Bergmeier can be reached by phone at 620-227-1822 or by email at email@example.com.