Free Clinic Exposes Larger Problem - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

4/26/04 - East Texas

Free Clinic Exposes Larger Problem

The "Texas Mission of Mercy" wrapped up its third stint in East Texas over the weekend. Over 1,500 people were given free dental, vision and other general medical care during the two day clinic.  Another 2,000 people who showed up, had to be turned away.

Organizers of the clinic said the numbers are telling of a larger problem. On Sunday, the scene was much more like what organizers had hoped for. Dozens of chairs full of patients receiving some much needed care. But out at the Youth with a Mission Ranch near Lindale, many never got to sit in those chairs.

Hundreds, even thousands showed up, some waiting days, but never getting to see a doctor. Sue Thornton is the director of Texas Dentists for Healthy Smiles. They help to put on the free clinics across the state. She said, it's a disturbing trend.

"I think that unfortunately what this is indicative of is the patchwork of services that are out there," she said. "These are adults that may oftentimes have minimum wage jobs or they're doing peace mill type work, it's not steady, and they have families and other expenses that they have to deal with and they simply don't have money in their budget to afford dental care for themselves or their children."

While other services are provided, the clinic's deal mainly with those needing dental care. Officials said there are a staggering number of those in need of that care.

The American Dental Association says around 50% of American's never receive any type of dental care. Another 25% seek care only during emergencies. Those leftover, do seek care on their own.

Dr. Jon Tilton helps to organize the clinics across the country. He said the numbers represent a much larger issue.

"My feelings are that communities need to look inward, each community needs to identify the problems and try to put their arms around it and I think that's what this project does."

Until then, more and more people will be in need of care with fewer and fewer options. Organizers helped direct those who had to be turned away this weekend, to other local charitable groups. The "Texas Mission of Mercy" is the only program right now providing free care on such a large scale. Organizers said they don't know when they will come back to East Texas.

Chris Gibson, reporting 

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