Galdina Sanchez Cruz, 43, had never been to the dentist before she showed up at a mobile dental clinic Saturday at Chemeketa Community College in Salem.
Her teeth hurt for almost a year until a neighbor told her about the free mobile clinics that are held regularly in Oregon and Washington.
Medical Teams International and Kaiser Permanente partnered with Mano a Mano Family Center to host a Saturday.
The clinic, housed in a large red bus, provided on-site dental care, COVID-19 vaccinations, diabetes testing, general health screenings and health navigation services, helping people find primary care doctors or access insurance coverage .
Cruz received a filling and extraction on the dental bus.
“I’m happy because I won’t have this pain anymore and I can feel comfortable,” she said through a translator.
Once settled in, community members were able to learn about other health resources such as the Salem Free Clinics, which provide free medical and dental care as well as counseling services. Mano a Mano staff also distributed food boxes containing items such as rice, beans, chicken and dried chilies.
Offering a helping hand
Mano a Mano now provides health navigation services through its community of health workers, as well as education, housing and social justice support to Latino communities in western Oregon.
They said the need for access to medical and dental care is huge in Latino communities.
“We just want to be that helping hand,” said Maria Jaramillo, director of Mano a Mano’s family wellness program.
Cruz does not speak English, which can be a barrier to accessing health care. Language barriers can make it difficult to communicate health needs, and although translation services are often available, it can still be a confusing process, explained Mano a Mano’s Jaramillo.
People also may not be able to leave work to get to appointments, or they may not understand what type of health benefits they have access to.
“Our health care system is incredibly confusing,” said Kathryn Potter, senior program manager of public and social health at Kaiser Permanente. “Even people who have coverage don’t know what their coverage includes.”
The clinics are funded by Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dollars and all services provided are free. Community partners receive grants to support clinic operations.
Breaking down barriers
Serving the community through a mobile clinic model is not new to Kaiser Permanente or Medical Teams.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the two organizations partnered to provide mobile COVID-19 vaccination and testing clinics, focusing on serving rural communities in Oregon and Washington.
In 2021, 12,153 vaccinations were administered through 298 community clinics in the Pacific Northwest, Potter said.
She said one thing became clear through this work: “People who face barriers to getting COVID vaccinations face barriers to getting other types of care.”
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When community organizations were contacted to better understand these barriers, many reported a need for dental care.
By partnering with Medical Teams, which has been providing mobile medical and dental work for decades, Kaiser Permanente was able to help create an initiative that “widely targets the health needs of the community,” Potter said.
“Caring and Connecting”
The Care and Connect collaborative program begins by providing basic care to communities in mobile clinics. From there, community members can transition to more sustainable and consistent care in local primary care and consultation offices.
They hope to reach people who may be confused or afraid to enter the health care system.
“It brings joy to our team that we can go out and reach people,” said Cindy Breil, executive director of Americas programs at Medical Teams International.
About 25 percent of Oregon’s population is on Medicaid, while 6 percent are uninsured, Breil said.
“That’s a lot of people who may feel disenfranchised by our health care system,” she said.
They serve anyone who comes to their clinics, including seniors, veterans, people of color, farm workers, and people experiencing homelessness.
“We don’t want our care to be less than the best when we serve these populations,” Braile said.
Through the Care and Connect program, medical team personnel have so far performed 16,206 dental procedures in 487 clinics. Nearly 41% of patients served are people of color.
The Saturday clinic accepted walk-ins on a first-come, first-served basis, with no appointment required. He helped 225 people on Saturday, Mano a Mano told the Statesman Journal.
Additional free clinics are planned for the coming weeks in Oregon and Washington.
To find a clinic near you, visit medicalteams.org/how-we-heal/mobile-dental-program/emergency-dental-clinics/. No Eugene clinic listed, to be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29, at Centro Latino Americano, 944 W. 5th Ave.
Another option is White Bird Dental Clinic, which offers emergency, preventive and restorative dental care to people who may be uninsured, underinsured, low-income or homeless and otherwise without care, at 1415 Pearl St. She offers clinics at 7:30 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Information at https://whitebirdclinic.org/dental or call 541-344-8302.