WATERLOO - Dentists from across the country will fill the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center Friday and Saturday offering free services to underserved Iowans.
Iowa Mission of Mercy volunteers will set up a large field dental clinic Thursday and doors for the free clinic will open Friday morning, with service starting at 7 a.m. and running through 5 p.m. both days.
Though this is a first-of-its-kind event in Iowa, organizers said Missions of Mercy in other states have shown significant need for dental services and also provide professionals with opportunities to discuss long-term policy options that will ensure families and children have access to quality oral health care.
"There is a great need among Iowans for quality dental care. And the need is especially great in Waterloo, that is why this area was chosen for the first event," said Dr. Richard Hettinger, chairman of the Iowa Mission of Mercy clinic. "However, as we continued to plan this event, we realized there is great need everywhere in the state. We could have done one of these just about anywhere and expected the same interest."
About 1,000 patients are expected to be seen on a first-come, first-served basis over the course of two days. Hettinger expects prospective patients to begin lining up outside the convention center hours before the clinic opens. There are no eligibility requirements to be served.
People can expect to wait several hours after the doors open in the morning. Most of the wait will be indoors.
"That is the nice thing about the Sullivan Center, we can get hundreds upstairs and in the medical triage so we don't have people lining up around the building all day," Hettinger said.
Follow-up care also will be available for emergency situations. All patients will be given a toll-free number they can call should an emergency arise. Local dentists have offered their time and services for these instances.
"For every 2,000 patients served we can expect about 100 emergencies. Since we are expecting about 1,000 patients, we are preparing for about 50 emergencies," said Dr. Martin Averill, a local dentist and steering committee chair.
About 800 volunteers including dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, dental suppliers and members of the general public are needed to pull off the clinic. Although most of the volunteers are local, at least a few dentists are traveling from Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin and Connecticut.
Limited child care will be available for those not able to watch their young children while receiving services; however, organizers urge adults to either find alternative care or bring another adult to care for the children if possible.
Because of the number of volunteers and patients expected parking will be tight in the downtown area both days. Patients are asked to park in designated public parking lots, including lots under the U.S. Highway 218 viaduct between West Park Avenue and West Sixth Street and west of U.S. Highway 63 at River Road and Commercial Street.
Volunteers are being asked to park in the lot across from Young Arena, behind the Happy Chef on Highway 63 and across from the Waterloo Center for the Arts.
A ramp on Commercial Street has limited space in the upper levels and rates are posted. Metered on-street parking is also available throughout the downtown area. Organizers are also asking volunteers and patients to refrain from parking in paid, reserved parking spaces.
A free shuttle service will be available from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. White Exceptional Persons vans will pick people up at the River Road parking lot and the Highway 218 viaduct lots and will drop people off at the convention center.
Contact Emily Christensen
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