EARTH DAY – Pacific High School freshman Hailey Kane plants a Tlingit potato in a garden next to the U.S. Forest Service District office building on Halibut Point Road, Friday. More than a dozen Sitkans, including several from Pacific High's gardening class, helped plant the heirloom potatoes as part of local Earth Day events. This was the third year for the program which is a collaboration between the USDA Forest Service Ranger District and Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Program organizer Michelle Putz said the low-maintenance potatoes originated in Mexico or South America and have been planted in Tlingit gardens for more than 200 years. Last year the garden yielded 90 pounds of spuds. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitka Dentist Setting Out on Mission of Mercy

Sentinel Staff Writer
    Sitka dentist Dr. Tom Jacobsen is doing his part to make dental care accessible to Alaskans in need.
    He is one of 70 to 75 dentists who will donate their services at a Mission of Mercy event April 13-14 in Fairbanks.
    “It’s a worthwhile cause,” Jacobsen said. “The entire Mission of Mercy is free of charge for those patients who qualify for it.”


Dr. Tom Jacobsen  (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

    Mission of Mercy is a national organization aimed at providing free dental care to those unable to afford it. Since its founding in Virginia some 15 years ago, Mission of Mercy chapters have replicated the organization’s original large mobile dental clinic model in 29 states to serve more than 243,000 patients through more than 100 events across the country, said Chris Willis, co-chair of the Fairbanks event.
    The Fairbanks initiative will be the fourth Mission of Mercy event in Alaska, and is hosted by the Alaska Dental Society in partnership with local volunteers and donors.
    Dentists volunteering through Mission of Mercy have treated more than 3,600 Alaskans since the organization came to the state in 2014, Willis said. Their donated services amount to some $1 million worth of care.
    Willis, who works as a business manager for a dental practice, said his wife, Heather Willis, is one of the dentists who will volunteer at the Fairbanks event. He hopes the event will serve up to 1,000 patients, which would equate to some $1 million in free care, over the two-day event.
    “My wife and I have been involved kind of from the start,” Willis said. “It’s just a great way to give back to our community, raise awareness, and hit a need that our community needs.”
    Jacobsen said Mission of Mercy initiatives are important in light of the obstacles standing between low-income Alaskans and dental care.
    “Medicaid in Alaska doesn’t really provide much for adults,” he said. “(Mission of Mercy) is mainly set up to take care of people that, under our health care system that we have here in the U.S., do not have access for financial reasons... If we had a fully-functioning Medicaid system in the state, or, I guess, nationally, then we wouldn’t need this. We wouldn’t need this massive effort on behalf of volunteers... But that’s not the reality we’re living in.”
    Jacobsen was quick to praise the non-dentist volunteers, like Chris Willis, who he said have shouldered the responsibilities of planning and implementing the event.
    “It’s a huge undertaking” he said, citing the assembly of resources and machines, the sterilization of equipment, and the logistics of managing such a large number of patients and providers as examples of the organizational tasks involved.
    Of all of those who put together and manage the event, Jacobsen said, “the dentists that participate in this are really kind of in the minority. We dentists just kind of parachute in and do the work.”

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