Mobile unit rolls on to aid people with medical needs

Oct. 23, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Health care has been a frequent topic of discussion lately, but while some argue politics, others are going out and helping those who don’t have access to quality care and need assistance.

That’s the mission St. Joseph of the Pines, a Catholic health care group in Southern Pines, has taken up via trips to rural areas of Moore County, as well as Sanford, to provide free dental and medical care to those who need it the most.

Its expansion into Lee County is relatively new, having just begun its once-per-month visits in July. From 4-6 p.m. this Thursday at the Sanford Lions Club Fairgrounds, the group is hosting a local open house to invite the community to see what they do and to ask for financial assistance in keeping their work going.

For two or three days every month, the group sets up a 53-foot semi filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment at the fairgrounds, said Susie Buchanan, community relations director for St. Joseph of the Pines. She said it costs $1,200 every time they visit — and that while they have received help from some Moore County civic clubs and regional Catholic charities, she wants Lee County donors to be involved as well.

“Those are the people who we need their help,” Buchanan said, explaining why she’s hoping for many civic-minded people to turn out Thursday at the open house. “They’re the ones who are going to make this work.”

Working with The Helping Hand Clinic — a Sanford-based group that provides free medical care to low-income, uninsured locals — to identify those who need dental help the most, Buchanan said they’ve pulled 72 teeth from 59 Lee County patients so far and have also done work with fillings and other needs.

“Really what we’re doing is seeing people who are in the most pain first,” she said.

There’s going to be another session this weekend, with dental hygienists working on some patients Thursday and dentists on hand Friday and Saturday to do the trickier work. No walk-ins are accepted, although Buchanan said people who would like help should call St. Joseph’s at (910) 246-3126 or The Helping Hand Clinic at (919) 776-4359 for help setting up an appointment.

“We do appointments because we want to take care of people’s pain,” she said. “(Otherwise) we would have people who just want to come get a free checkup. But that’s not our mission.”

Marilyn Green, executive director of The Helping Hand Clinic, said the clinic has long offered dental services. But demand for treatment far outpaced the supply of qualified volunteers, she said, making the new collaboration a Godsend.

“I would try to set the patients up to come in once a month, but the need was too much,” she said.

Green added that with the help of Dr. David Fisher, who heads the Lee County Dental Society and whom Buchanan also praised, the work St. Joseph’s has done at the fairgrounds has been a hit with both the patients and the volunteers at The Helping Hand Clinic.

“People are very grateful for it, and it’s lightened the load on us,” Green said.