KALAMAZOO, MI — The health center operated like an assembly line, brimming with efficiency.
As a result of the efficient dental work by 150 volunteers and Family Health Center staffers, hundreds of people received free dental care on Friday.
By 8 p.m. June 24, more than 300 area residents were expected to receive teeth cleanings, fillings or extractions though the Dr. Lisandra Soto Dental Day of Caring. The event was held at the Family Health Center (FHC) at 505 E. Alcott St.
The event was set up with 300 reservation slots from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Walk-in slots also were available on Friday.
Alison Nuismer, FHC director of marketing and fund development, said by 1:30 p.m. FHC had seen 200 community members with more than six hours left of availability.
“We have so many staff and volunteers here today that are making it go quickly,” Nuismer said. “There’s a little bit of waiting between but assuming a chair is open, they’re coming right back.”
Shuttles were available to transport patients from nearby parking lots. Once there, individuals would register in the parking lot, go through triage where their medical history was taken and then wait for a chair staffed by a dentist to open.
According to a press release, 33% of adults in the U.S. struggle to find affordable dental care. Dr. Julie Saracina, chief dental officer, said that was a primary reason for the event’s importance.
“Dental care is very expensive, even when you have insurance, it’s expensive,” Sararcina said. “It’s not like medical insurance, there’s a cap on it so you have a maximum amount you can spend. And then after that you have to pay for everything where you just have to distribute it from year to year. If you have a family, it feels like that cap is met very quickly.”
In the past, Dental Day of Caring has provided care to over 300 patients and saved over $100,000 in medical costs, Nuismer said. Funding and resources to host the day are provided by local businesses, philanthropic support and volunteer time from dental professionals. Old National Bank is the primary sponsor for the event.
“I’m actually completely surprised how wonderful the volunteers are who are not a part of our core staff who can just jump right in and help to be a provider in a whole new environment,” Saracina said.
The day wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of the late Dr. Lisandra Soto. Saracina said Soto helped plan the first Dental Day of Caring but passed away before it came to fruition.
“She was a pediatric dentist and she would have been just blown away by what was happening today,” Saracina said. “We’re seeing so many kids too, we’re seeing adults. I’m just happy to be apart of an event that she’s inspired.”
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