Mission Of Mercy

July 5th, 2011 - By steve.mccormack


WDA Mission of Mercy

The Wisconsin Dental Association and the WDA Foundation wrapped up their third Mission of Mercy in the Wausau area,  providing free dental care to more patients than originally planned.   The Greenheck Field House and a high school gym in Weston were transformed into a large-scale, charitable dental clinic on June 24 and 25. Volunteers recorded 2,141 patient visits with adults and children receiving teeth cleanings, fillings, extractions, and more.

Dr. Steve McCormack and his wife Kris, from St Croix Falls, volunteered at the 2 day event.  Dr McCormack saw patients on an emergency basis while his wife helped process thousands of instruments in the sterilization area.

Nearly 100 temporary dental chairs were set up in the gym and everything from extractions to fillings were done in what can easily be described as a M.A.S.H type setting.  Patients were registered in one area, received anesthetic in another, then  taken to a dentist who completed the necessary treatment in the hour or less time slot.

“I can’t say we had the best of equipment and supplies, but the logistics of setting up such a monumental dental setting are staggering.  Miles of plumbing and electrical wires are needed for each dental chair.  Since any patient might need a dozen instruments or more for their treatment, and you multiply that by over 2000 patients, it is amazing to see the teamwork of all the volunteers, “ said Dr. McCormack.

Kris helped sterilize instruments using over 20 large sterilizer units, all running full time.  Buckets of instruments would arrive in the area, and all had to be processed quickly for the remaining patients.

“You feel a little hand tied by the portable equipment and wish you could be providing this care in your own office setting.  I had a foot peddle for my drill that wouldn’t completely shut off.  That meant I had a drill partially running as I would start the procedure.  It was a little unsettling to do dentistry that way, since even at partial speed the drill is running at 30,000 rpm’s.

“Since I had to use my high power optics with a head lamp it meant my field of focus is about an inch wide.  Moving a high speed drill, still running, past a patient’s lip and tongue was a unique challenge to say the least.” said Dr. McCormack.

The value of care exceeded $1.12 million.   A team of 1,050 dentists, assistants, hygienists and support staff from 163 Wisconsin communities were involved.   The first patients lined up on Wednesday, two days before clinic doors opened at 6 AM.

Originating in Virginia and spreading throughout the United States to over a dozen states, Mission of Mercy dental programs have provided 100,000 patients with nearly $50 million in free dental services and treatment since 2000.  The Wisconsin MOM program provides care to the uninsured, the under-insured and anyone who otherwise has difficulty getting to a dentist.

A successful MOM event focuses on:

  • Providing free access to critical dental care while placing a high priority on patients suffering from dental infections or pain.
  • Raising public awareness of the increasing difficulty adults and children with limited financial resources face in accessing critical dental care.
  • Challenging patients, policymakers and dental professionals to work together to reduce dental disease and improve the oral health of Wisconsin residents, including those who have been promised care by the state.

Wisconsin’s dental Medicaid and BadgerCare programs are grossly underfunded, which denies patients necessary economic purchasing power.   Increasing access depends on additional financial investment by the state, because coverage alone does not equal care.

  • The state reimburses about 30-35 cents for every $1 of services provided in a private dental practice.  Federally Qualified Health Centers, like those recently opened in Rice Lake and Chippewa Falls, are reimbursed for dental services at about twice the amount paid to private dental practices.   In addition, FQHC buildings and equipment are frequently paid for by the government – a substantial advantage over private practitioners.
  • A Wisconsin work force report released in January 2010 details the tremendous increase in the state’s MA population. About 1 million low-income individuals, or 20 percent of Wisconsin residents, are beneficiaries of MA coverage in a 12-month period. The number of MA individuals who where continuously enrolled in MA for 12 months nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008.
  • The state’s most current dental MA data shows Wisconsin and federal governments spend just 1 percent, or just $76 million of a $6.6 billion annual MA budget, on oral health programs for children and adults. In comparison, 80 percent of other states spend a greater percentage of their MA budgets on delivering dental care to low-income patients.

“It was a long day, what with a 3 hour drive over and back to Wausau, with all the dentistry in between.  The patients were extremely grateful, despite the long lines and limits to care.  Next year the event will be in Madison, so maybe the legislature can get a close up look at the needs of so many.  It was great to see so many volunteers with a smile on their face throughout the day.  It was frustrating though to get help to only 2000 people, but I know it made a difference to them.  I’ll be back next year, “ said Dr. McCormack.