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Mission of Mercy: A Well-Meaning Public Relations Event, Not a Solution to NM Dental Health Crisis


MOM 2012 Line-up
Albuquerque, 2010: Mission Of Mercy line outside of patients waiting to be seen (Source: Only in New Mexico blog)

“Are you in pain?” I asked a young man who was waiting in line to see a dentist at the New Mexico Mission of Mercy (MOM) weekend dental clinic in 2010. 

“Only when I eat,” he answered.

The patient intake form I was filling out for him gave me only two ways to answer the question “Are you in pain?”: “yes” or “no.”  I wasn’t sure which answer to choose. Did the question mean “Are you in pain right now as you are standing here?” or was it the more general “Do you have pain?”  This man clearly needed to eat to live, so even if he is only in pain when he eats, he is in pain in a way that impacts his life in a big way. Right? I marked “yes.” 

As I found in my few hours volunteering at the patient intake station, this man wasn’t the only person who was in pain only when he or she ate. He stood in line with over 2,000 other New Mexicans for the chance to see a dentist, to try to have at least one of their dental problems resolved.  Hundreds camped outside overnight and traveled hundreds of miles for this chance.  Others may not have traveled so far in miles, but because they are Medicaid patients, don’t have insurance coverage, or can’t afford dental services the distance to see a dentist is just as great. 

MOM 2012
Albuquerque, 2010: Mission Of Mercy clinic inside (Source: Only in New Mexico blog)

The MOM is good for generating positive public relations, awareness, and good feelings every year and a half.  But just as the “Are you in pain” question failed to accurately represent this man’s dental condition and the day-to-day realities his pain, the MOM fails to understand the nature of NM’s dental health and access crisis. More importantly, the MOM fails to provide a meaningful long-term solution.   

The MOM is a well-orchestrated event, and the people in line do get to see a dentist. But because it is only a weekend clinic, most people are limited to getting only one of the many dental services they actually need.  Then what happens if these individuals need follow-up care after the weekend is over?  There is nowhere – or in some cases very few places – that these patients can go. They are already so outside the healthcare system, there is no avenue of access to dental services beyond these MOM events. Reportedly, for weeks after the MOM event, safety net clinics like Community Dental Services in Albuquerque received a flood of follow-up calls from MOM patients. They received calls from more patients than they could possibly see. 

Clearly there is a demand for dental services and a shortage of dentists who can provide these services.  Rather than investing in MOM clinics we should invest in a long-term workforce solution that can help meet our dental health and access crisis; adding mid-level dental providers called “dental therapists” to NM’s dental team will strengthen the workforce and increase access for consumers. 

Dental therapists practice in rural, tribal and underserved communities, under the off-site supervision of dentists providing routine and preventative dental services to the community.  With a dental therapist people won’t have to camp out to see a MOM dentist every year and a half, and they won’t have to travel long distances missing school or work.  Most importantly, with the guidance of their dental therapist New Mexicans would be able to prevent the dental decay that leads to extractions, and other serious dental health and overall health problems.

NM has had 3 MOM’s.  The next MOM is in September 2013 in Farmington.  How much longer and how many more MOM’s will New Mexicans have to stand in line for?  Let’s work to make the need for Mission of Mercy events obsolete by bringing the long-term workforce solution of dental therapists to NM.  

- Pamela

Word of Mouth

HB 17 wrap-up & next steps

Dental Therapist-Hygienist HB 17 has reached its final destination for 2013, and we are already working on next steps.

Last night the House Business and Industry Committee heard HB 17 for 2 1/2 hours - a good chunk of time, this late in the session. The committee directed that the HB 17 sponsor and representatives meet with the sponsor and representatives of the New Mexico Dental Association (NMDA) dental therapy bill after the session, before the interim committees begin in May. The meetings will help us continue to work for legislation that has a positive impact on the oral health crisis in New Mexico. So while there was no vote in the committee, there was a great discussion that yielded concrete next steps that can be taken.

Earlier this week, HB 17 companion bill SB 567 was tabled in the Senate Public Affairs Committee. The votes were as follows - Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto was not present for the vote. We encourage community members to contact their legislator if they are unsatisfied with a voting decision.

At Health Action NM, we are proud of the progress and advocacy that occurred during the 2013 session. There was a big increase in awareness of the dental care crisis in NM, as well as in the solution that dental therapy can offer. We need to continue this education process and get more people on board, including Gov. Susanna Martinez.

We couldn't have done it without the support of many allies. A big thank you to:

  • Our bill sponsors, Rep. Dennis Roch (R) and Sen. Carlos Cisneros (D).
  • Other state advocacy groups who are also working hard to make dental therapy a reality in their states.
  • The many local dentists and dental hygienists who stood up with us to promote dental therapy as an optimal solution to NM's dental care needs.
  • All of our endorsers, community members, groups, and organizations alike.
  • All those community members who attended the various committee hearings and called their legislators in support of this bill.

Stay in touch with us to hear more about what you can be doing to keep building awareness on this solution to New Mexico's dental care crisis. There is much work to be done!

Word of Mouth

Last Chance for HB 17

We just received notice that our bill HB 17 for Dental Therapist-Hygienist Licensure has finally been scheduled to be heard by the House Business & Industry Committee TODAY, March 7 at 1:30 p.m. in Room 309.

Thank you for all of your calls to the Roundhouse - they really helped us get this bill heard!

The New Mexico Dental Association's (NMDA) bill to delay dental therapist-hygienists in NM by 8-10 years will also be heard in this committee today, same time and place. The dentists will be present at the committee in force. We need your attendance to help us support HB 17 for New Mexican families, and oppose the NMDA bill which stalls solutions to New Mexico's oral health crisis for almost another decade.

The senate companion bill to HB 17 was tabled in the Senate Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The opposition effectively used misinformation to create unjustified concerns on the part of some committee members. They also portrayed the nonprofit organizations supporting this bill as "well meaning but misguided."

This is therefore our last chance to get our bill heard in committee. It is a challenging committee, whose chair person's personal dentist is the former president of the NMDA and has been one of the strongest dental therapy opponents in NM. However, it is a committee with several new committee members as well.

HB 17 is a solution to our dental care crisis that also emphasizes cultural competency, is homegrown, and is community based. Let's not let this chance slip through our fingers.

Please attend House Business & Industry today at 1:30 p.m. to support HB 17, and stand up for a solution that will help families today - not push the issue to the back burner. We need your support.

Word of Mouth

History of Success

Dental therapy has a history of success around the globe. We mentioned one great review of the evidence here, if you don't want to take our word for it.

As former Senator Dede Feldman put it, HB 17/SB 567 is "a common sense bill." It is common sense not only in the positive impacts it would have on New Mexico, but also in the strong history of dental therapy success that has been established on a global scale.

SB 567 will be heard in the Senate Public Affairs Committee today. The committee starts at 2pm in room 321. If you're able, please attend to show your support. If not, please consider calling the committee members to urge them to pass this bill.

We are moving forward!

Word of Mouth