United Way of Greater Kingsport’s (UWGK) Health, Safety and Stability Vision Council identified adult dental care for the uninsured and underinsured as a compelling, unmet need for the community.  Understanding this need was larger than any one group could tackle alone, the Vision Council brought together individuals and organizations with the passion, expertise, and resources needed to address this gripping challenge.

Bruce Sites, a member of UWGK’s Health, Safety and Stability Vision Council and executive director of Friends In Need Health Center, volunteered to serve in the leadership role for the collaborative group that would be formed.  Sites initially contacted Frank Waldo, co-owner of Tele-Optics and a longtime supporter and volunteer of Remote Area Medical (RAM).  Waldo immediately reached out to Dr. Joe Smiddy, a retired pulmonologist and Tri-Cities RAM board member.  Dr. Smiddy’s service with RAM enabled him to discuss this important need with Stan Brock, founder and chief executive officer of RAM.  Thousands of individuals in our region receive quality medical, dental, and vision care at no cost during RAM events held both regionally (e.g., Bristol, TN and Southwest VA) and nationally.

“Serving as a volunteer for the regional RAM events, I saw firsthand the need folks had for dental care.  Individuals would arrive at a RAM event and wait the entire weekend only to miss out on the opportunity to be seen.  There are always more folks needing dental care then the RAM dentists can treat,” said Waldo.

Brock had long been troubled by the number of folks at the RAM events that desperately needed dental care.  His desire was to not only meet their emergency needs, but also to provide preventative care that would, over time, help eliminate their reoccurring pain and suffering.  Brock believes this collaboration will help address both emergency and preventative dental needs in the region.

With a strong coalition now in place, work began on developing a strategic plan for a mobile dental unit that would feature not only five, fully functional dental bays, but also an eye exam bay.  It was apparent that the largest and most costly hurdle would be the procurement of the tractor and trailer that would serve as the mobile dental unit.  Dr. Smiddy generously agreed to lend his tractor to the effort, so the focus shifted to getting the trailer donated.  He met with Scott Niswonger, founder, chairman of the board, and chief executive officer of Landair Transport Incorporated, to make the request.  Landair’s donation of a brand new, 53-foot air-ride trailer set the wheels in motion for the mobile dental unit to become a reality.

The caring power of the community continued to be evident as coalition members filled necessary gaps.  For example, RAM’s Brock agreed to license and insure the unit in both Tennessee and Virginia.  Local architect Luther Cain of Cain Rash West Architects volunteered his time to create the design for the unit.  Additionally, Waldo is assisting by identifying the technical components necessary to make the unit operational.  Project management is being facilitated by Sites.  The UWGK continues to serve as the convener for the community group, playing a supportive role by providing volunteer, staff, and financial resources.

“The mobile dental unit is an example of how the United Way of Greater Kingsport is driving community change.  Our role as the backbone organization for this effort coupled with our $10,000 donation proves we understand what it takes to tackle the big problems in our community.  Our ability to lead community change is what makes United Way unique among other non-profits,” said Danelle Glasscock, executive director, UWGK.

The mobile dental unit is expected to be operational by mid-summer.  While the specific plans are still being formalized around how and when the unit will be deployed, the unit is being prepared for the following:
*         Serve as the unit that provides immediate dental care to RAM participants who were not able to be treated at the regional RAM events.
*         Host 12-15 mini-dental events to help address emergency dental needs that often require individuals to wait until a local RAM event is scheduled.
*         Serve local residents by providing dental hygiene care when not in use following a regional RAM event or mini-dental event.
*         Serve to unite dental patients with non-profit providers of dental care to ensure ongoing preventative care is in place.  Examples of these types of     organizations include Friends In Need and Healing Hands in Bristol.
*         Serve our region permanently as a key component of RAM’s Appalachian Health Initiative.

Persons interested in learning more about the mobile dental unit should contact Bruce Sites at Friends In Need Health Center by calling (423) 246-0010 or emailing friends.in.need@charter.net.  Correspondence may be sent directly to Mobile Dental Unit, 1105 West Stone Drive, Kingsport, TN  37660.