Behind the scenes at a Texas Mission of Mercy event
For two days last month, under the direction of Texas Mission of Mercy, East View High School was transformed into a makeshift dental clinic serving over 850 patients in need. “This was the 56th Texas Mission of Mercy event since 2001,” says lead dentist Dr. Kent Macaulay, “and the sixth time we have been in Williamson County.”
Texas Mission of Mercy is a program under the Texas Dental Association Smiles Foundation. Dr. Macaulay explains, “The TDA Smiles Foundation was dreamed up and developed with the idea of doing missions like this where we can go to communities across the state of Texas and provide emergent care to help those folks who don’t have access to other care.”
“TDA is the mothership,” says Stephanie Blanck, Texas Mission of Mercy co-chair. “We at TMOM answer to the TDA Smiles Foundation.”
Hoisting a large three-ring binder, Stephanie adds, “Before you can even sign on [to work for TMOM] you have to read the TDA manual and agree to its guidelines. . . . It really does help. It shows us what to do, step by step.” The manual provides an organizational chart to aid in the process of setting up a mobile dental clinic.
One of the most immediate items on the list is to secure a location. TMOM had not planned on bringing the event to Georgetown this year, but when former GISD superintendent Joe Dan Lee heard that TMOM was in need of a location, he volunteered EVHS. Mt. Pleasant dentist and TDA Smiles Foundation chair Dr. Don Lutes says, “East View High School was the perfect location. Here we were able to get everyone under one roof.” Instead of having to stand outside in inclement weather, which has happened at events in the past, Georgetown TMOM patients began their day in the EVHS theatre in “pods” of 20 to 25, traveling in an almost serpentine manner to the classrooms set up for registration and pre-screenings and through the long hallways until they reached their goal: the dentists in the cafeteria.
It takes the work of many participants to keep the gears of this charitable machine running smoothly. Eight hours of effort went into setting up the physical necessities for the event, such as the tables and chairs and equipment, but East View’s transformation from high school to fully functional dental clinic was the result of months of planning. “We’ve been meeting every week since January,” Stephanie explains.
While Stephanie has volunteered for TMOM several times in the past, this was her first time to co-chair. She shared the duties with longtime friend and co-chair extraordinaire Carol Woods. Together they rounded up volunteers, many of them TMOM “groupies,” as return volunteers jokingly call themselves, to head up the various TMOM stations. “Once you have all of these people in place,” Stephanie says, running her hand down a page in the binder, “the rest falls into place.”
Stephanie makes the challenging logistics sound much easier than they are. Carol and Stephanie also had to oversee details a person might not consider part of a free dental clinic, such as finding a parking lead to direct patients, volunteers, dentists, and staff. Celebration Church took on that particular duty. “They are so good with parking!” Stephanie raves. “They know how to do it, so we asked if they would help, and they said they would.”
As lead dentist, Dr. Macaulay organized more than 120 volunteer dentists and a dental team consisting of an x-ray lead, a sterilization lead, a prosthetics lead, and a triage lead. He arranged for a generator and compressor to be brought in. A dental supply company donated more than $5,000 in supplies such as disposable latex gloves. TDA owns the 40 treatment chairs that were delivered to the school on Walmart trucks and unloaded by community volunteers. “We also had ten chairs for triage, which is exam and diagnosis,” says Dr. Macaulay, “and those were essentially lawn chairs that we set up in a classroom to do our examinations.”
St. David’s Foundation out of Austin allowed TMOM the use of three of their mobile dental vans. “These are mobile dental offices that have two chairs each so we had an additional six chairs for treatment,” explains Dr. Macaulay. “So this was really a forty-six-chair event in addition to the triage chairs.” He’s also not counting the prosthetic chairs where 39 patients acquired new dental prosthetics.
A large event of this kind calls for nearly equal numbers of volunteers and patients. Volunteers came from the community and area organizations such as Rotary Club and Georgetown Area Junior Forum and from churches like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Celebration Church, and San Gabriel Presbyterian. Due to the high number of volunteers, “the work was done quickly and efficiently,” says steering committee member Monica Allen.
TMOM provided services for the Georgetown event at a value of $560,000, but for the people who are now without pain, who can eat their favorite foods, and who can smile proudly with renewed self-confidence, the event was truly priceless.