Pandemic Challenges Become a Blessing for Free Dental Clinic

In the U.S., a local church initiative adapts to serve the community.

Julene Cole, North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner
Pandemic Challenges Become a Blessing for Free Dental Clinic

The planning committee for Omak Seventh-day Adventist Church’s annual free dental clinic realized they had a challenge on their hands. The church, located in Omak, Washington, United States, had previously hosted two dental clinics using the equipment of the non-profit ministry Caring Hands Worldwide to provide free dental care to community members who otherwise could not afford it. Those events were not during a pandemic, however. It was evident the September 2020 event was going to be very different.

One challenge was finding enough volunteers, as the number of people available to help at the clinic was much smaller because of COVID-19. In addition, patient management was difficult. In previous years, the community was invited, and crowds of people showed up to stand in line for first-come, first-serve appointments. The committee grappled with ways to ensure appropriate distancing and sanitization, but nothing seemed workable.

Not wanting to give up, one committee member urged, “We have this amazing opportunity to serve. We can’t just let that go!”

Together, the planning committee asked God to give them insight to solve their dilemma. As soon as the prayer was over, the next words spoken were the answer: “What if we made appointments, like a regular dental office?”

And with that, a completely new patient management plan was launched. Later, the committee learned from Caring Hands Worldwide that the Omak site was the first to go forward with hosting a free dental clinic with their equipment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The resulting patient management plan worked so well, the group says they won’t go back to the old approach. For one thing, the new system took fewer in-person volunteers to manage. In addition, many of those who were unable to volunteer in-person were able to help from home by scheduling appointments and conducting patient screenings by phone. The entire process was a more streamlined and pleasant experience for both volunteers and patients. What at first felt like a roadblock ended up as a lasting blessing.Though the number of patients who could be served was significantly reduced because of COVID-19 guidelines, the free dental clinic was able to provide badly needed dental extractions and cleanings to 57 community members. The Omak Adventist church looks forward to serving their community again for many years to come, with the benefit of what they learned by asking God to help them adapt to challenging times.

The original version of this story was posted by the North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner.

Julene Cole, North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner