Writing by Huiyi Cen and Grace Wong
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Dilber Shatursun
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, better known as Tzu Chi Medical, hosted another dental outreach in Las Vegas, NV on May 1, 2022. This is its 13th dental outreach in Nevada. Despite 350 volunteer signups, pandemic protocols limited volunteer capacity to 140. Altogether, 151 patients were seen and treated entirely for free. Here’s how it all happened.
Coming Together for Neighbors in Need
Despite the glitz and the glam of Las Vegas, many of its residents, including those that live just north of the city, struggle to make ends meet. According to the latest estimates from the US Census Bureau, 14.9% of residents live below the poverty line. This means as many as 3 out of every 20 people struggle to make ends meet, and may choose to forgo adequate healthcare, including dental care, in favor of paying rent, putting food on the table, or paying for any other combination of daily expenses. To help fill the gap in dental care, Tzu Chi Medical has been dedicated to providing quality service, free of charge to patients in need.
In collaboration with the municipality of North Las Vegas, who provided use of the venue for free, Tzu Chi Medical scheduled its 13th free dental outreach in the area at the CIVICA Nevada Career and Collegiate Academy. Back in San Dimas, CA, a team of dedicated Tzu Chi Medical volunteers packed all supplies, including dental equipment, power generators, compressors, electrical wires, computers, and more for transport to Clarke County, NV. After an 8-hour trip to North Las Vegas, the team began to unload, meeting a group of fellow volunteers on-site to begin setup for the outreach the day before.
The Outreach Begins
As early as 6:00 AM, people began lining up outside the venue to be admitted. Tzu Chi Las Vegas Service Center team leader Cui Ling Gao explained that despite the large quantity of volunteers, their capacity to serve was still limited.
Phan Nguyen, D.D.S., a Las Vegas-based dentist and Tzu Chi Medical volunteer highlighted the services they’d be focusing on: “our volunteers spent a month and a half planning and preparing to provide each patient with the most professional services, like teeth cleaning, tooth extraction, and fillings, for those who can’t afford it.” Understanding how much poor dental health can impact everyday life, he added that volunteering toward this cause is very meaningful: “today’s outreach is really great.”
Before entering, however, every person who enters the venue is tested for COVID-19 on the spot and gets their temperatures taken. All medical professionals were also required to wear PPE. Furthermore, intake volunteers measured each patient’s blood pressure and blood sugar levels for extra measure.
Providing Students a Safe Space to Train, Learn, and Give Back
As typical for Tzu Chi medical and dental outreaches, dozens of eager young students from local universities supported the event as volunteers. This time, the event included the students and faculty of the prestigious Touro University Nevada, where they conducted blood sugar testing and blood pressure measuring. For healthcare students, participating in a Tzu Chi outreach offers them the invaluable chance to apply the principles they learn in the classroom in a real-world setting.
In addition to the university students, more than a dozen high school students also came to volunteer. Their main tasks included helping sanitize patient chairs after use and cleaning equipment and pipes. While their tasks were mainly manual, they were inspired by a special spirit, as described by Jolie Nguyen, Dr. Nguyen’s daughter:
Another student, Stephain Masiak said, “I’m glad that I could come to help. I made a lot of friends here, and our group was all high school students.”
Relieving Pain and Touching Hearts
Jonathan Cruz, a patient who came to the dental outreach with his mother Ana, said:
He brought his guitar to play at the outreach, providing some cheer to his fellow patients and to say ‘thank you’ to the volunteers who helped. Afterwards, Tzu Chi volunteers brought him a bamboo bank, for him to collect spare change to donate back for a good cause, and explained it’s origin story. Jonathan shared his impression of it:
Another patient, Ashley Martinez, said, “I came in for a filling and the doctor fixed my tooth very quickly. Thank you for coming here to help. The doctors are so friendly, and the X-ray was super quick, everything was great!” Gabriela Baza, who came with her family, said, “the service was great! We received the treatment we needed quickly, we really appreciate it.”
Teamwork For Better Health
Of the dental outreach, Dr. Stephen Denq, the Chief Executive Officer of Tzu Chi Medical remarked that. “I saw the spirit of Tzu Chi harmony and teamwork, both internal and external.” Describing what he meant, he went on to say that, “internally, we have Tzu Chi volunteers, both from Tzu Chi USA Headquarters in San Dimas, California, and local Tzu Chi volunteers based in Las Vegas. Externally, though, we are working with outside, local organizations. At this dental outreach, we have the help of practicing medical doctors and dentists, and there are professors taking students with them to help and keep an eye on things. I am grateful for the perfect cooperation of all these healthcare professionals and volunteers, several of whom have participated many times before.”
Those who attended the dental outreach were also offered second-hand clothing. Photo/Huiyi Cen
Ren Liu, the head of the Tzu Chi Phoenix Service Center, brought volunteers to help and learn how to conduct a dental outreach. She explained that, with the Phoenix Service Center’s 27th anniversary approaching, they wanted to be able to soon “combine charity and medical, dental, and eye care to our food distribution recipients.”
Feeling optimistic and inspired to help people in Phoenix, too, Ren added that, “we thank Tzu Chi USA Headquarters for their strong support and the Fresno Mobile Team in California for their encouragement and support. We hope to take a big step forward to help local families in Phoenix as soon as possible.”