Galdina Sanchez Cruz, 43, had never been to a dentist before showing up at a mobile dental clinic at Chemeketa Community College in Salem on Saturday.
His teeth had been hurting for almost a year when a neighbor told him about the free mobile clinics held regularly in Oregon and Washington.
The clinic, located in a large red bus, provided on-site dental care, COVID-19 vaccinations, diabetes screening tests, general health screenings and healthcare navigation services, such as helping people find primary care physicians or access insurance coverage.
Cruz had a filling and an extraction on the dental bus.
“I’m happy because I won’t have this pain anymore and I can be comfortable,” she said through an interpreter.
After registering, community members were able to discover other health resources such as Salem Free Clinics, which provides free medical and dental care as well as counseling services. Mano a Mano staff also distributed food boxes containing rice, beans, chicken and dried peppers.
Mano a Mano already offers health navigation services through its community health workers as well as education, housing, and social justice support for Latino communities in western Oregon.
They said the need for access to medical and dental care is huge within Latin American communities.
“We just want to be that helping hand,” said Maria Jaramillo, director of the Mano a Mano family wellness program.
Cruz does not speak English, which can be a barrier to accessing health care. Language barriers can make it difficult to communicate health needs, and while translation services are often available, it can still be a confusing process, explained Jaramillo, de Mano a Mano.
People also may not be able to take time off work to get to appointments, or they may not understand what kind of health benefits they can access.
“Our health care system is incredibly confusing,” said Catherine Potter, senior program manager for community and social health at Kaiser Permanente. “Even the people covered don’t know what their coverage includes.”
The clinics are funded by Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dollars and all services provided are free. Community partners receive grants to support clinic operations.
Serving the community using a mobile clinic model is nothing new to Kaiser Permanente or medical teams.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the two organizations have partnered to provide mobile COVID-19 vaccination and testing clinics, focusing on rural communities in Oregon and Washington.
In 2021, 12,153 vaccinations were administered at 298 community clinics throughout the Pacific Northwest, Potter said.
She said one thing has become clear through this work: “People who face barriers getting a COVID shot face barriers getting other types of care.”
When they contacted community organizations to better understand these barriers, many expressed a need for dental care.
By partnering with Medical Teams, which has been providing mobile medical and dental services for decades, Kaiser Permanente was able to help create an initiative that “responds to broader community health needs,” Potter said.
The joint Care and Connect program begins by providing essential care to communities in mobile clinics. From there, community members can move into more sustainable and consistent care at local primary care and counseling offices.
They hope to reach people who might be confused or afraid to enter the health care system.
“It brings joy to our team to be able to go out and reach people,” said Cindy Breilh, executive director of US programs at Medical Teams International.
About 25% of Oregon’s population has Medicaid, while 6% are uninsured, Breilh said.
“That’s a lot of people who can feel left out of our health care system,” she said.
They serve everyone who comes to their clinics, including the elderly, veterans, people of color, farm workers, and homeless people.
“We don’t want our care to be less than the best when serving these populations,” Breilh said.
Through the Care and Connect program, medical team personnel have performed 16,206 dental procedures in 487 clinics so far. Nearly 41% of patients served were people of color.
Saturday’s clinic was accepting walk-in visits on a first-come, first-served basis, with no appointment required. He helped 225 people on Saturday, Mano a Mano told the Statesman Journal.
Sydney Wyatt covers health inequalities in the Mid-Willamette Valley for the Statesman Journal. You can contact her at SWyatt@gannett.comby phone (503) 399-6613, or on Twitter @sydney_elise44
The Statesman Journal’s coverage of health care inequalities is funded in part by the MJ Murdock Charitable Trustwhich aims to strengthen the cultural, social, educational and spiritual base of the Pacific Northwest through capacity building investments in the nonprofit sector.