11:21 AM

Mission of Mercy - Wise County Fairgrounds, VA

I spent last weekend at the Mission of Mercy (MoM) in Wise, Virginia. You’ve probably seen news reports of MoM events – they are held in just about every state and are providing emergency health services to people who have no other options. The Wise County MoM-- in the remote Appalachian Mountains of Western Virginia – is one of the oldest and largest. DentaQuest has supported this effort for many years and it never fails to make a dramatic impression on all of us who participate.

Over the weekend, the Wise County fairgrounds became a sea of tents and seemingly endless lines of people waiting – first to get in, then to get a number, then to get evaluated, and finally to get time with a dentist, doctor, or eye doctor (all volunteers ). The temperature was well over 100 degrees every day, with little shade, and no running water. The volunteer clinical providers worked tirelessly with very few breaks. Dentists provided needed care – with no running water.

It is impossible to overstate the desperation that I saw. Although the gates to the fairground did not open until 5 am on Friday, cars were filling the parking lot as early as Tuesday. By 5:30 am on Friday morning, over 1500 people had walked into the fairgrounds – the maximum that could be helped in one day—leaving thousands more outside the gates, hoping to get in the next day. Organizers told them to come back at 6 pm to get a number for Saturday. Inside, the people who had numbers patiently endured the blazing sun, sitting on bleachers until it was their turn to be seen in the Triage area. By the time the event wrapped up on Sunday, close to 6,000 had received medical, dental and eye care services. There’s a slide show here [http://www.timesnews.net/article.php?id=9024958].

I helped in the dental area where the most common procedure was not fillings, it was extractions. Many were full mouth extractions. Only a limited number of dentures were available – so there was a lottery for them. One young woman – just 29 years old—had all her teeth extracted. She was happy to be out of pain, but didn’t win the lottery for dentures. Can you imagine 29 years old and no teeth? And she thanked us.

The faces and stories from Wise are with me. As the CEO of a company whose mission is improving oral health, the volumes of people seeking emergency dental care is a painful reminder that many are falling through cracks in our health system. Missions of Mercy events are only a stop gap on the way to a solution.

I did see one sign of hope -- only a few children seeking emergency care. As the dental benefits administrator for Virginia’s Medicaid program, DentaQuest has been working with our state partners to make sure that children on Medicaid get dental services. In the recent Pew Report on children’s oral health, Virginia met or exceeded the national benchmark for children 18 and under on Medicaid who get dental care. That is one step forward, but there is more work to be done.

Guest blog post by Fay Donohue, CEO, DentaQuest.