For many impoverished members of Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, the mobile dental clinic run by a local hospital meant that toothbrushes for their children were no longer luxuries.
“People are shocked when they learn that as many as one in eight kids in our area doesn’t have a toothbrush, or that kids don’t have running water at home or live in their parents’ cars and brush their teeth at school,” said Amy Card, director of the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Foundation, which raises funds for the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon, Illinois.
Two years ago, the hospital’s dental bus broke down, lessening the number of children receiving free care. But a new bus with state-of-the-art equipment will hit the road soon as the result of Mobile Miracles, a capital campaign supported by Coles-Moultrie and other community partners. Last year, the co-op and CoBank donated $14,000 toward the campaign’s goal of $600,000 to replace the bus. The co-op gave an additional $1,000 to the foundation’s virtual holiday fundraiser that also raised money for the bus.
“Many of their patients are in our service area, which includes eight surrounding counties,” said Carla Bradbury, a member service and marketing representative at the Mattoon-based co-op.
While the hospital also operates a brick and mortar dental program and makes in-school visits, the mobile clinic enables it to reach even more children. At one point, said Card, the dental bus visited 66 schools in seven counties and saw as many as 60 to 80 patients each day.
Like in most of the nation’s rural communities, timely, affordable dental care is hard to find in an area where about 20% of families live below the poverty line.
“If it weren’t for our dental program, there are few other places to go locally,” Card said. In addition to those on public assistance, “we provide care to uninsured children, those on the free and reduced lunch program, and those whose parents have no means of transportation to a dentist.”
The old mobile dental clinic lasted about 10 years, wearing out after lugging 2,000 pounds of dental chairs, X-ray machines and other dental equipment. Each year the bus logged about 100,000 miles across east-central Illinois.
The hospital will recognize the co-op’s contribution by displaying its name on the back of the new bus, which is set to roll soon.
“Coles-Moultrie has been absolutely wonderful in its support of our dental program and our other programs, too,” said Card.
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.