By: Jabari Brooks, YES! Youth Staff, Raleigh, NC
Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) recently had the opportunity to visit a Missions of Mercy (MOM) dental clinic, performing free dental services for individuals who could not otherwise afford or access care. That afternoon, in the line that stretched about a hundred patients more around the church lawn for a x-ray, we heard so many remarkable stories. Stories all the way from extended war monologues to why students want to practice dentistry to the real life struggles that cause people to even need a free dental clinic.
Our purpose for attending the clinic was to gain a genuine perspective from those on the other end of the healthcare system. The issues are deeper than an endless line of people suffering from toothaches, but rather rooted flaws within the system impeding on those individuals from getting access. As an organization, we want to collect stories, as these patients had so much to tell, yet so few take the time to listen.
The numbers of people seeking care from the MOM Clinic was astounding; approximately 500 people were seen the first day. However, many were not so lucky and got turned away, whether because there was a shortage in volunteers or a restriction of time. You could feel people in line losing morale, some of which had camped out the night before or arrived at the clinic at the crack of dawn, but still were not seen.
There was a common theme amongst the patients spoken to: they either could not afford dental insurance or had dental insurance but it was still far too costly and accessible to pay for the work they needed. Even many of those who were lucky enough to have a dental office nearby, cost still remained a barrier. “It’s either, do I fix myself and my teeth, or do I fix my car so I can get back to work, or something else. It’s a struggle” said one patient. This helped us realize that even with insurance, a low-income will still make it next to impossible to obtain the proper care. Furthermore, many nearby dentists did not accept the insurance patients may have had. In NC, only 27% of dental practices accept Medicaid as a form of dental insurance. This is due in part to a 22.1% drop in Medicaid reimbursement rates between 2003 and 2013.
It was disheartening to say the least, to see the statistics that we have researched for months represented in lines of pained patients. Receiving good oral health care is imperative to carrying out a daily routine: working, completing chores, even having the confidence to step out of the front door. The Missions of Mercy Clinic is just a temporary solution to the greater conflicts; in order to see real impacts we have to tackle the obstacles that make access too near to impossible.