When you have a talent and a few spare hours, it's good to share.
That's exactly what Santa Clarita dentist Dell Goodrick and his hygienist Kathy Delanzo did last week, when they spent three days at the Inglewood Forum, contributing their time and talents to the Remote Area Medical free health expedition.
The humanitarian project was the brainchild of Stan Brock, who founded RAM in 1985. The nonprofit corporation travels all over the globe providing free health care to mostly third world countries and destitute areas of America, such as Appalachia and post-Katrina New Orleans.
During their 8-day stay in Inglewood, RAM volunteers - including doctors of all specialties, nurses, dentists, opticians, pharmacists, x-ray technicians, acupuncturists and social workers, just to name a few - treated 6,300 patients, providing nearly $3 million in services. Dentists extracted 2,274 teeth and filled 5,438 cavities. Opticians fit nearly 2,000 people for glasses.
The Forum was the ambitious project ever taken on by the group; it was the largest facility and the longest in duration, but Goodrick and Delanzo concurred that the leadership and improvisational skills of the volunteer health care workers made the weeklong effort a complete success.
The pair went to the Forum at 5 a.m. Friday, taking video of their early-morning adventure that started out with a "wow, it's early" attitude and quickly shifted into awe and amazement when the lens took in the monumental task at hand.
"On Friday, Kathy and I worked on floor seeing patients and doing dentistry," Goodrick said. "I think we saw seven patients. On Saturday I helped with triage, checking patients in, focusing on what their problems or priorities were, then getting them to have x-rays then off to the right lineup for cleaning, extractions or fillings. There was a backlog at x-rays, so I helped them out."
The backlog was where Goodrick saw the determination of the program first-hand.
"There were some limitations with equipment and some organizational hurdles to meet, but what I found was that there were a lot of leaders there. When something needed to be done better, somebody was working to reorganize it, make it a little more effortless and seamless."
By Sunday, Goodrick was working with a man who brought in a digital x-ray sensor and printer, which allowed him to process 200 patients.
"It was a very different animal than what we deal with in private practice," he said.
Goodrick was responding to a call that went out from the Los Angeles Dental Society for volunteers. According to RAM experience, 60 to 70 percent of the patients who come to their clinics are seeking dental and vision help. He estimates that 50 to 100 dental professionals were working every day that he participated, with the numbers growing on weekends when dentists closed their regular offices.
"It's wonderful how appreciative people were for the services provided," Delanzo said. "Even though there were so many people trying to get in there, there wasn't any pressure to get in there or rush."
"The materials we had to work with weren't perfect, but we got through it, and it was very positive," Goodrick added.
Both said that they would do it again because the experience was such a good one.
Goodrick also said that the clinic gave some of the dentists an opportunity to work with new equipment, such as the digital x-ray he operated on Sunday.
Both Goodrick and Delanzo were so focused on their work, he said they lost track of time.
"I know there were cameras there every day, although I haven't seen any of the news reports," he said. "It's kind of funny, being in the Forum all day long is like being in a casino, you don't know what time it is or whether it's dark or light outside.
The people who came to the clinic were of all ages and from all walks of life. Goodrick said that one thing everyone commented on was the level of gratitude apparent as treatment was given.
"We talked with people who had been there for three or four days, waiting. When they got to us, who knows what hoops they'd gone through to get there, but they were relaxed and just went with the flow.
"Everyone was so appreciative and thankful," he continued. "We just tried to do our best to take good care of them and help them feel better about themselves, and that made us feel good too. When you hear a comment like 'I already feel better' just by getting a tooth fixed, you can't help but feel good."
He added that it was apparent that most of their Forum patients had put off dental care for a long time.
"We saw some disastrous mouths," he said. "Most of the people we see in our office day in and day out are pretty lucky; most of these situations were pretty severe decay or broken and missing teeth or large holes in their teeth. Some younger people who were there were getting wisdom teeth out and cleaned to get them set up for a better future."
The dentists participating were told that treatment was not supposed to be comprehensive, that they could do as much as they could in the small area they were anesthetizing, to focus on a single problem or quadrant of the mouth. Patients were given referrals for future low-cost treatments.
All in all, both Goodrick and Delanzo concurred that it was time well spent.
"It was very worthwhile, although the days were long," he said. "I think that is was not only life-changing for the better for a lot of these people involved, it, it had that effect on all of the volunteers too. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to help and it's a huge reward. It makes me feel very good about the things that we do and the gifts we have."
Photos courtesy Dell Goodrick and Chuck Sargent