August 25, 2017

More than 30 percent of adults have not had a dental visit in the past year, and about one in three are living with untreated dental caries. Nearly 20 percent of low-income Maryland adults say their mouth and teeth are in poor condition. Most say that the reason for not visiting the dentist more frequently is the high cost. 

To help provide stopgap care and connect local community members with resources that will support their ongoing health, the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival, organized by the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center for Health Equity in partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Maryland State Dental Association and Foundation, will provide free, emergency dental and health care to adults in need on Friday, September 8 and Sunday, September 10, 2017.

Oral health is closely linked to overall health, and people who are forced to delay regular dental care because of inability to pay are at higher risk for preventable oral diseases and other chronic conditions. At the event, a full range of dental services and diverse preventive health screenings will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis in the University of Maryland’s XFINITY Center. 

This is the second time that the University of Maryland has partnered with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington to host this large event, which features 120 comprehensive dental stations staffed by hundreds of volunteer dental professionals. University of Maryland athletes, faculty, staff and students will make up some of the more than 500 general volunteers from across the region that will help participants connect with needed services, and The Cigna Foundation and Adventist Healthcare have stepped in as major sponsors. When this event was held in 2014, more than one thousand people received the equivalent of more than $1.2 million in care.

“I am so proud that this is the fourth time that Catholic Charities has been a leader in providing dental services through M.O.M. in different localities throughout the state of Maryland,” said Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. “Thank you to the University of Maryland for partnering with us. More than 1,500 patients will receive more than $1M in pro bono dental care. My heart is always warmed seeing the newly-found smiles on the faces of our clients, but my hope is that we will ultimately be able to serve the many people who aren’t able to get the care they need at this amazing event. Through this effort, we will change thousands of lives and guide them to healthier futures through Catholic Charities’ partnership with the University of Maryland.”

“We want to alleviate human suffering and instill the value of empathy toward our less fortunate neighbors, an important core ethic to be embraced by our students, faculty and staff,” said Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity in the UMD School of Public Health. “This is how we create a culture of health not only on our campus but throughout the region.”

“The collaborative efforts of dental professionals at Mission of Mercy projects change patients’ lives,” said Dr. Diane Romaine, president of the Maryland State Dental Association and Foundation. “Working together beyond these projects will be the key to developing ongoing access to oral health care in Maryland.”

The Health Equity Festival

The Health Equity Festival, a unique feature of this specific Mission of Mercy, includes more than 25 health and wellness stations hosted by the United States Public Health Service, Adventist Health Care, Doctors Community Hospital, Walgreens Pharmacy, the Lion’s Club, Cigna Foundation and many more. 

Recognizing that oral health is not separate from overall health and that individuals seeking emergency dental care may also face other health, social and economic issues, the Health Equity Festival brings teams of physicians, nurses, public health educators, legal advocates, hospital systems and the US Public Health Service to provide a range of health, education and counseling services. While people are waiting to receive dental care, they can visit with one of the exhibitors and receive services including:

  • HIV, Hepatitis C, diabetes, blood pressure and vision tests
  • Health literacy and medication counseling
  • Assistance navigating insurance options through the Maryland Health Connection, Maryland’s health insurance marketplace
  • A legal clinic to counsel people who have significant medical debt 
  • Festival participants will be entertained with music by performers with UMD and local gospel choirs, and have a chance to relax in an atmosphere designed to promote stress relief and healing. 

Research and Training to Advance Health Equity 

While there are other Missions of Mercy that serve the mid-Atlantic region, another unique component of this one co-organized by the University of Maryland is the integration of research, teaching and service to the event. Data collected by researchers from the Maryland Center for Health Equity will help to better understand the health care needs of our region and will provide important information for policymakers to increase access to care. Participants will be able to join a study looking at how to best use text-messaging to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

UMD public health students will gain important experience serving and interacting with community members from diverse backgrounds and with a range of health concerns. 

Mission of Mercy events play an important role in preventing catastrophic health situations for some people.  “While the Mission of Mercy and Health Equity Festival cannot solve all the problems that drive the lack of access to dental care that people face, we have a moral obligation to do our best to reduce the immediate human suffering while we also work towards a comprehensive policy solution to provide affordable care,” said Dr. Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health. 

All participants will receive dental care and public health education delivered by qualified and dedicated volunteers. The event is also an opportunity to raise awareness about the national health care crisis in our state and nation and hopefully stimulate meaningful policy discussion and change. 

The 2017 Mission of Mercy & Health Equity Festival’s treatment days are September 8 & 10, 7am-5pm at the UMD’s Xfinity Center. For more information, visit www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/mom/

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