An army of dentists and volunteers are planning a Mission of Mercy in Pensacola later this month.
"This is the signature event of the Florida Dental Association Foundation" says Dr. Kim Jernigan, a dentist practicing in Pensacola and a member of the foundation's board. She’s talking about the association’s Mission of Mercy, an event where thousands of patients who do not have access to dental care can come and be treated for any and all dental health issues free of charge, no questions asked. This is the third Mission of Mercy event. The first was in Tampa two years ago. Dr. Jernigan was there. "My staff and I arrived at four o'clock in the morning with all the other volunteers for the Mission of Mercy. And when we pulled onto the property at the fairgrounds, and you have to understand that the fairground in Tampa is the largest fairground venue in the state of Florida, patients were lined up all the way around the building and back. Patients that had been in line for 36 hours at that point, lined up to receive treatment."
"Our goal is to see two thousand patients in the two day event" said Dr. Beau Biggs, another participating Pensacola dentist. He says the event will be held at Woodham Middle School on East Burgess Road. "We're going to turn Woodham Middle School's basketball gym into a 100 chair dental clinic. We'll have fifteen hundred volunteers helping out on six hour shifts, each. And our goal is to see one thousand patients a day for a total of two thousand patients. In Jacksonville (at last's years Mission of Mercy event), we had one hundred and fifty chairs so we were able to see three thousand patients over the two days. The remarkable thing is we turned away five thousand patients that we were not able to see."
According to the US Health and Human Services Agency visits to the emergency room for dental problems in Florida cost over $243 million a year. Dr. Jernigan says in addition to treating people’s immediate dental needs, they will also instruct them on how to stay healthy. "A large component of this is education and prevention, so we will provide them tools for education and prevention. And when they exit with their post operative instructions explaining what to think about and where to go, we give them a sheet of paper with sources in the area [so they can get] follow up care."
Dr. Jernigan also says they expect many people to travel hours to get to the event. Escambia County Sherriff David Morgan’s department has signed on to provide security and crowd control. "Sheriff Morgan is committed to us not only to handle traffic flow, but to handle the people-flow outside the gate." the sheriff's department will also keep the neighborhood informed about the crowds that will be forming around the school those two days. She also credits Pastor Ted Traylor of the Olive Baptist Church and Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas for providing both support and facilities. And she has praise for the dentists who are volunteering to work both days of the Mission of Mercy. "Not only are these dentists traveling from twenty four states and all over Florida, but they are traveling at their own expense, they're paying their own hotel, they're bringing their staff and covering their expenses. Those dentists also gave $71,000 cash out of their own pockets to make this Pensacola event happen."
There are also hundreds of other volunteers signed up to help with the event, including interpreters, data input people, parking attendants, patient ambassadors who will be with each patient from the time they register and even some who will serve some snacks for patients waiting in line.
The Florida Dental Association Foundation’s Mission of Mercy event will be held March 24 and 25 at Woodham Middle School in Pensacola. Patients do not need to pre-register. They can show up and get in line. One exception. The organizers are working with various veteran organizations in the area to prescreen 300 veterans who do not have access to dental care.