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Preparations underway for New Mexico Mission of Mercy free dental clinic this weekend


Doors to convention center will open to patients at 5:15 a.m. each day

FARMINGTON — San Juan County workers are setting up temporary plumbing, electrical and networking systems at McGee Park in preparation for the annual New Mexico Mission of Mercy this weekend, a free dental clinic that organizers are describing as the state's largest charity event.

The clinic, which last was held in San Juan County in 2013, is expected to result in the treatment of approximately 1,000 patients, a number that is slightly larger than the number of folks who were seen during the clinic here nine years ago, according to Devin Neeley, the spokesman for the county, which is serving as the prime sponsor of the event, presented by the New Mexico Dental Association Foundation in partnership with the New Mexico Dental Association.

The clinic will take place Friday, Sept. 23 and Saturday, Sept. 24 at the McGee Park Convention Center, 41 County Road 5568 between Farmington and Bloomfield. Patients will be offered basic care, including fillings, cleanings, extractions and limited root canals. They also will receive preventative dental education and instructions on how to maintain their oral health.

The effort will involve 200 dental health care professionals — dentists, hygienists and assistants — and hundreds of volunteers who will help with such tasks as parking, escorting patients, translating and security. Neeley said the volunteer portal on the event website has closed, but more volunteers are needed.

"If they want to volunteer, they can show up both days, and we'll put them to work," he said.

A limited number of appointments is available for patients by visiting nmdentalfoundation.org. Organizers emphasize that patients do not need to have an appointment, and walk-ins are welcome. But they will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis, and the doors to the clinic will open each day at 5:15 a.m.

The wait to receive services could be lengthy, Neeley said, noting that patients need to make accommodations for that.

"If you can't stand for a long period of time, you need to bring whatever will make you comfortable," he said.

Much of that wait is likely to take place outside, so patients are advised to dress for the weather and bring such items as sunscreen, snacks, water and reading material.

According to the event website, free child care will be provided to patients with children. Drinks and snacks will be offered to those children. Patients will be allowed to bring only one small personal item — a purse or a backpack — into the clinic. Translators will be available in Spanish and other languages.

The event website indicates that if capacity for the event is reached, the clinic doors will be closed to walk-in appointments, and a sign will be placed outside to notify others.

During the 2013 clinic, he said, some patients camped out outside the convention center the night before it began in order to be among the first people receiving treatment. He expects some overnight campers to show up again this year.

Planning for the clinic began months ago, Neeley said, and county workers started delivering several truckloads of equipment to McGee Park on Sept. 20. He said the clinic would fill the McGee Park Convention Center and the multiuse building.

"We're really thankful to have this brought to the county so people can get these services they need so badly," Neeley said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.