They began lining up as early as 3 a.m. Friday morning and by 7:30 a.m. the line for the free dental clinic in Middletown had to be closed as the Connecticut Mission of Mercy reached its 1,000 person limit for the day.
Sherry Cassidy and Mark Pelosi of Waterbury arrived at the clinic around 5:30 a.m. and were just reaching the door around 9:30 a.m.
Pelosi, who has two broken teeth and no dental insurance, was excited about the opportunity to see a dentist. He said about five or six years ago he had an abscessed tooth, which caused his eye to completely swell shut before he was able to get emergency dental care.
Prior to the emergency, Pelosi said it had probably been about 20 years since he’d seen a dentist.
Jim Vanhooser, 29, said he was laid off awhile back from his construction job and his insurance had run out so his mother suggested he visit the clinic.
“I haven’t been to a dentist in quite awhile,” Vanhooser of Cromwell said.
David Shaver of East Haddam said he tried to keep up with his preventative dental care, but when his dentist had a heart attack he had trouble finding another dentist in his price range. Shaver said he came to the clinic Friday because he needs a tooth extracted and doesn’t have the several hundred dollars it will cost.
While they were appreciative for the generosity of the close to 1,700 volunteers, Amy Schick of Vernon and Chir-Lane Johnson of New Britain, who met at the end of the line Friday said the clinic should run four to five days, instead of two.
“People can’t stand in line like this,” Schick said. “That’s not to say we don’t appreciate their generosity.”
Schick and Johnson were also grateful for Vanessa Miller-Dicks of Hartford who risked losing her place in line to bring them back some coffee.
The clinic at Aetna’s Middletown campus off Industrial Park Road, will reopen Saturday at 8 a.m. and volunteers expect to serve another 1,000 individuals.
Inside the clinic, Dr. Jonathan Knapp, described it as “organized chaos,” as volunteers and patients weaved their way in and out of the 106 dental stations.
Since starting the two-day clinics three years ago, Knapp and his colleagues have witnessed some disturbing and promising trends.
The disturbing trend is the growing number of people who have come to rely on the clinics.
“It’s become a dental home for them because they have no where else to go,” Dr. Robert Schreibman said. An estimated 60 to 100 of Friday’s patients were also at the clinics it held in Tolland or New Haven.
“This is an intermediate place, but it isn’t a solution,” Schreibman said.
The number of individuals the clinic is hoping to serve today and Saturday has increased to 2,000.
“The economy is a big piece of this,” Schreibman said. “There are still 1 million adults in the state which don’t receive dental care.”
Rep. Elizabeth Ritter, who co-chairs the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said that’s why it’s so important her colleagues don’t agree to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposal to cut dental care for adults on the state’s Medicaid program.
She said the proposed cut would not include emergency dental care, but Knapp was quick to point out that emergency care costs 10 times more than routine dental care.
“I truly wish Governor Rell was here today to see this,” Ritter said.
However, the promising news is that with the increased Medicaid reimbursement rates for the state’s Husky providers, the clinic is seeing fewer and fewer children in need of dental care.
About 95 percent of those seeking care are adults, and about 5 percent are children, Schreibman said.
Knapp said since Husky reimbursement rates increases the number of dentists who accept the insurance has increased from 135 to more than 1,000. He said the increased reimbursement rate was enough to cover their costs.
House Speaker Chris Donovan also attended the free dental clinic Friday. He said it showed “the need in our community.” And that’s exactly why he’s fighting against Rell’s budget proposal because it cuts things like adult dental care for those who can least afford it.
He said there has to be a better solution.
“We need something better than this safety net,“ Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire, said.
Esty, Ritter, and Donovan were amongst the handful of politicians to visit the clinic.