A television show inspired Tampa dental hygienist Johnathan Lawson to travel 10 hours to help a group of strangers in June. He was part of a team of volunteer dentists, hygienists, doctors and nurses who set up a makeshift clinic at Cleveland High School in Cleveland, TN, during the first weekend in June to help hundreds of patients who couldn't afford dental or medical care.
Johnathan, who works at Coast Dental Action Plaza and Coast Dental Silvermill Plaza in Tampa, FL, learned about the volunteer organization Remote Area Medical when it was featured on "60 Minutes" last year. Johnathan was impressed by how well-organized the group was, and signed up as a volunteer. The Tennessee event was his first one with the group. When the doors opened, about 400 people were waiting in line.
"Some patients had camped out since 10 p.m.," Johnathan said. "Most of the patients I saw didn't have jobs, or money, or insurance, so you're trying to provide a service that otherwise they would not get."
Remote Area Medical events typically draw 1,000 people over the course of a weekend. The group provides basic medical services, women's health checks, eye exams and dental services, no questions asked. More than 70% of the patients ask to see a dentist.
"The dentists do a lot of extractions. The hygienists do a lot of periodontal work to treat infection and provide basic cleanings and fluoride treatments," said Johnathan. "The organization has sterilizers on-site and they hold to OSHA standards. It's very well run."
Best of all is the patients' reactions.
"They're extremely grateful - anything from hugs and kisses to some people being in tears. They're very appreciative," Johnathan said.
The Tampa hygienist is already planning to make the trip back to Tennessee for another Remote Area Medical event.
View WRCB-TV's story about the event
Written by: Beth Gaddis
Reviewed by: Johnathan Lawson, RDH
Reviewed by: Cindy Roark, DMD