BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE
As the saying goes, a dentist gets to the root of the problem.
Two Erie dentists who are parishioners of local Catholic churches are doing just that next month. Dr. Stephen Radack and Dr. Ronald Helminski will be among many dentists, hygienists and other medical personnel volunteering at a two-day, free dental clinic at Gannon University in Erie.
The problem they’re tackling is the great number of people who need—but cannot afford—regular dental care.
“When there is a choice between taking care of your teeth and putting food on your table, then some people have to put food on the table,” said Dr. Helminski, a lifelong member of Erie’s St. Hedwig Parish, now merged into St. Stanislaus Parish. “If there is something I can do to make their life easier, then you’ve got to do it.”
Dr. Helminski and Dr. Radack, a parishioner of St. Luke in Erie, will join the non-profit MOM-n-PA dental mission on June 16-17 at Gannon’s Recreation and Wellness Center, 130 W. 4th St. Doors open at 6 a.m. each day, with patients treated on a first-come, first-served basis.
MOM-n-PA is the Pennsylvania division of Mission of Mercy, a non-profit, faith-based community organization that provides free healthcare, dental care and prescription medications to the uninsured and underinsured.
Because it receives no government funding, MOM can provide healthcare without any pre-qualifications. Patients attending the free dental clinic at Gannon do not need to prove their poverty or residency; they do not need to show an insurance card or identification.
Dr. Mary Jane Taylor, wellness director at Gannon, believes the MOM-n-PA dental clinic is in keeping with the social teaching of the Catholic Church and the mission of a Catholic university.
“It’s an incredible opportunity and people will be treated with kindness and respect,” Taylor said.
MOM-n-PA organizers expect the turnout at the Erie clinic to be similar to those held in other larger Pennsylvania cities the past four years. Volunteers treat up to 1,000 people per day.
Dr. Radack is co-leading the effort with Dr. Joseph Kohler, who attends St. Peter Cathedral, Erie. Radack started volunteering with MOM-n-PA when he was president of the Pennsylvania Dental Association.
A few years ago in Allentown, Pa., Dr. Radack saw people sleeping outside overnight waiting for the dental clinic to open. He treated one man who had large cavities in his upper front teeth.
“It screams out at you when you first look at that, but I was able to restore those teeth. It made a huge difference to him. He was able to go out and move on with confidence,” Dr. Radack said.
Many dentists, nurses and practitioners from throughout the tri-state area already have signed up for the Erie clinic. Organizers are seeking more help, including non-medical people to serve as laboratory technicians, translators, patient ambassadors, and set-up and clean-up crews.
Dr. Helminski is volunteering at his first MOM-n-PA event. As a dentist in private practice the past 34 years, he believes that everyone deserves good dental care, even those who cannot afford to pay for it.
“People trust their bodies to us. That’s a pretty sacred trust,” Dr. Helminski said. “We have been given this privilege and we need to pay it forward.”
MOM-n-PA DENTAL MISSION
June 16-17—Gannon’s Recreation and Wellness Center, 130 W. 4th St., Erie. Doors open at 6 a.m.
Those interested in volunteering can visit www.MOM-n-PA.com or call the Gannon Recreation Center at 814-871-7770.