FARMINGTON —New Mexico Mission of Mercy San Juan County will be coming to Farmington this fall, and volunteers are still needed to sign up to assist with the massive free dental clinic.
So far, 318 volunteers have signed up for 632 shifts. But there are a total of 3,247 shifts that need volunteers.
“We're expecting about 1,500 people to come to the clinic for care, so we really need a lot more volunteers,” said the event's co-chair Dr. Charles Schumacher, one of three area dentists heading up Mission of Mercy's planning.
Schumacher said there's a particular need for translators who can communicate with patients, as well as for patient escorts, who can help guide patients to the proper departments for treatment. Training will be provided to all volunteers.
“Being a patient escort is really a fun job,” said event co-chair Dr. John McNeill. “You get to interact with a lot of different people who need care, and you get to learn about the different treatment departments. It's also a pretty simple job.”
McNeill said he's pleased with the volunteer and donation response from the community, but he would like to see more volunteers sign up before summer gets underway.
The clinic will be held Sept. 13 and 14 at McGee Park. Volunteer opportunities are available for the two days of the clinic, as well as for the day before and after for setup and tear down. Volunteers must sign up online.
Schumacher and McNeill, along with co-chair Dr. Julius Manz, have been making the rounds of local service organizations explaining Mission of Mercy and recruiting volunteers. They are looking for additional organizations to contact them to come speak at meetings.
“It's a great opportunity for church groups and other service and business groups to volunteer together and provide service to the community,” McNeill said.
Two other Mission of Mercy dental clinics have been held in New Mexico — one in Albuquerque in 2010 and the other last year in Las Cruces. This will be the first one to be held in San Juan County. Schumacher said there's a particular need in the county for free dental care.
“There are many citizens in our area that really need dental care but are underprivileged and can't afford it. This is our way to give back to the community and to reach out to these individuals,” he said.
McNeill added that many people who can afford necessities like health and dental care often aren't aware that it's not so easy for many in the community.
“Especially during this economic crisis, there are a lot of people in need who we're just not aware of,” he said.
In addition to providing a wide range of free dental care — cleanings, fillings, root canals, tooth extraction and temporary tooth replacement — the volunteer dentists, hygienists and assistants will provide education on proper oral health. They will also provide information on local resources, such as names of dental offices that accept Medicaid and local clinics that provide free or discounted dental care. Pediatric dental care will also be available during the clinic.
McNeill said this type of education is important because many people don't understand that good oral care transcends the teeth and gums and can affect other parts of the body.
“There's been a lot of research recently about how dental care is important to other areas like cardiovascular and pulmonary health,” he said. “Good mouth and oral hygiene really affect one's overall health.”
Schumacher adds that good oral care is also integral to maintaining positive self-esteem, and tooth loss and other dental issues can even hurt a person's ability to obtain employment.
Schumacher and McNeill are encouraging those who wish to volunteer for the September clinic to sign up early so they can choose their desired shift.
“If someone's already signed up to volunteer, we'd like to encourage them to recruit a friend to also volunteer,” said McNeill.
Because volunteers will be provided with breakfast, lunch and snacks, people are also being sought to help with food and hospitality. In-kind donations are also welcomed.
Schumacher and McNeill, who were involved in the other New Mexico Mission of Mercy clinics, stress that volunteering for the Mission of Mercy offers one of the more enjoyable volunteer opportunities.
“There's a lot of camaraderie, and they get to work with so many others they know from the community who are also helping out,” Schumacher said.
Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.