St. Joseph Mobile Clinic Filling Need for Dental Services
Dr. John Ceraso was giving a lecture about dental implants six months ago when a St. Joseph of the Pines employee approached him about helping launch a free dental program on the mobile outlet for the Moore Free Care Clinic.
“I think the semi is a pretty cool thing,” Ceraso said. “I know there’s a great need in the community, and it’s a way to give back.”
Ceraso and Dr. Gary Jones, an oral surgeon, will begin seeing patients on the 18-wheeler Aug. 18 in Carthage and Sept. 15 in Robbins. Those monthly Saturday visits will continue through January, then switch to Wednesdays in February.
“We’re going to get it started, organized and running smoothly,” Ceraso said. “We’ll be able to recruit other dentists down the road. We just want to get out there and help these people.”
Susie Buchanan, director of community relations at St. Joseph of the Pines, said she has wanted a dental program since the semi hit the road in June 2011.
“We’ve had people come to the semi with swollen faces due to poor oral hygiene,” Buchanan said. “This is a program we have wanted to start since Day One. Fortunately, we can help them now."
The 18-wheeled truck, which is already equipped with medical supplies and two fully furnished examination rooms, will be outfitted to handle dental care. Ceraso and Jones will do fillings and extractions.
“The goal is to keep people out of pain and discomfort,” says Lynne Drinkwater, community relations coordinator at St. Joseph of the Pines. “We already have 35 people signed up to see the dentist. People have to have a scheduled appointment to be seen. They can’t just show up.”
Drinkwater said appointments can be made by calling her at (910) 246-3126 or by picking up a form when the semi is in Robbins or Carthage.
“We really want the semi to be a one-stop shop to meet the needs of the less fortunate,” she said.
St. Joseph of the Pines secured a $30,000 grant from Catholic Health East Heritage Fund to purchase dental equipment, and a combined $19,000 from the Southern Pines Rotary Club, Sandhills Rotary Club and Rotary District 7690 to help cover operating costs.
“I can’t say enough about the Southern Pines Rotary Club. They have been pursuing this money for three years,” Buchanan said.
Carol Haney, a former club president who was a driving force behind raising the funds, said she saw the need first-hand as a screener for the Sandhills Coalition for Human Care.
“I have seen people with severe dental issues that would break your heart,” Haney said. “This is the perfect venue for these folks. I’m excited that we’re moving forward. We’ve worked very hard for this, and we’re fired up to be able to provide this service to the people in Moore County who need it.”
The semi already travels to Carthage and Robbins four days each month to offer health services to any free-clinic patient who may not have the means to travel the 20-plus miles from rural Moore County to Southern Pines for a doctor’s visit.
In addition to providing medical care, the semi has been used to distribute hundreds of backpacks to children, provide blankets and warm clothes during the winter, and provide resumes and job interviewing skills.
“The most rewarding thing is providing help to people who need it the most,” Buchanan said.
According to a New York Times graphic published last September, Moore County has seen the largest increase in poverty over the past three years of any county in North Carolina. It was those statistics that helped St. Joseph obtain the grant to build the truck.
Christine Ganis, a psychologist by training, volunteered after touring the semi at Pinecrest Plaza about a year ago.
“I’m not providing direct care to anyone. What I’m doing is assessing what needs to be done, then providing materials or referring people to the appropriate agency,” Ganis said. “It’s a unique population that is often dealing with multiple stressors, both individual and family. We hope to at least get to them at the preventative level.”
Because it costs $2,000 each time the semi hits the road, Buchanan and Drinkwater are constantly seeking grants and planning fundraisers to keep it operational. A pig pickin’ is planned for Oct. 6.
“The goal is to raise more money to get to more places, such as Vass, Eagle Springs and even other counties,” Buchanan said. “We want to branch out. The semi doesn’t need to sit here. It needs to be on the road all of the time.
“We’ve been blessed to be given this vessel. It’s a great way to help people who have no access to health care.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the- pilot.com.
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