It has been over ten years since Nebraska had its first Mission of Mercy (NMOM). We were the fourth state to host a MOM project. I’d like to give a historical perspective (my point of history) of where NMOM has been and where we might be going. In 2005, the NDA, working with Dr. Kim McFarland, our state Dental Director, and Ms. Marcia Reikart, the state oversite chair for Dental Medicaid, pinpointed North Platte as a possible site for our first NMOM project. Dr. Jim Jenkins was asked to be our state chair, and after a few no’s Dr. Jim States said yes to being our first site chair. Looking back at a State that had only a bit of an idea of how to pull this off, we picked the right people and the right place. Dr. States was amazing at putting all the pieces together locally, and through the NDA newsletter and discussion at dental meetings, we educated the profession as to what the Mission was about. The Unicameral passed the legislation we needed to have the project, and interested parties donated the funds we needed for a free dental clinic. On Thursday, the day before we saw patients, we took a building that held rodeos in it, and turned it into a 60 chair clinic. After set up on Thursday, we had a catered dinner. You could feel the anticipation in the air. I can still remember going around and rubbing the shoulders of a few of the dentists in the room. As they got their rubdown, I told them that “Tomorrow we will be giving the gift of dentistry to people we don’t know and will never see again”. Little did we know that the gift we gave is not as significant as the gift we would receive. To be honest, I had no clue how true those words would become.
What We Learned from MOM projects
1. All egos need to be left at the door. The patient was the reason we were there.
2. We were able to help a person who could only find a minimum wage job find a higher paying more rewarding job, a better social life, and raise their self-esteem.
3. The person voted MVP of the project ran the wagon that collected spit and refilled water to the units. By the end of the project, he knew everyone and could make minor repairs on all the equipment.
4. We knew as a State and profession we had changed lives forever.
What We Know Now
1. We have had NMOM projects from Omaha to Alliance, and Mitchell.
2. The local volunteers from the various communities are amazing. I found it humbling to work beside them.
3. Dr. Steve Anderson, who is chairing his third NMOM, was the first National President of the organization.
4. The success or lack of it is directly dependent on our professional work force.
5. The dental students from both universities have had a large impact on our last five NMOMS. We would not have had the success we have had without them.
How I See It Now
Over thirty states have MOM projects. Some states set up two hundred units for their events. Nebraska was one of the major players helping MOMS become a national organization. However, we are one of the few states where dental manpower is a real problem. We have plenty of non-dental volunteers, good financial support from interested parties, and location sites second to none. As practicing dentists, I know we discount our work or give it away every day we practice to our patient population. Our state and federal government support programs don’t even come close to covering a modern practice’s overhead and make it very hard to feel good about helping an at risk population. We have to limit the number of people we see in an at risk population in order to have the practice we want. Therefore, we have a larger group of patients with more unmet dental needs than ever before. In NMOM we can help the most deserving without the cumbersomeness of government and other third parties.
Please consider helping at the NMOM project April 7th and 8th in Grand Island. You have heard it before, and you will hear it many more times in your life. Our lives are the sum total of the choices and effort we have put into it. However, we did not choose our starting place, it was a gift given to us.
People who can’t get help any other way will be standing in line April 7th and 8th in Grand Island. YOU CAN CHOOSE TO HELP THEM OUT.
Dr. John Ahlschwede