An extensive free clinic this weekend will offer people in Baton Rouge medical, dental and vision screenings regardless of their ability to pay and with no qualifying income requirements.
The clinic will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the city-parish's new Mosquito Abatement facility, 10550 Veterans Blvd. While free dental clinics have popped up in Baton Rouge in the past, this is the first time in recent memory where a clinic has offered medical and vision screenings as well.
Thomas Johnson never forgot that his front tooth was missing since the age of 11 — especially at job interviews.
Those who attend can receive free dental cleanings, tooth extractions, root canals, eye exams, prescription glasses, mammograms, Pap smears, diabetes testing, HIV testing, haircuts, flu shots, counseling and more. The clinic will treat people in the order they arrive with no appointments scheduled.
The free clinic's organizers expect between 1,500 and 2,000 people to come for services throughout the weekend, according to East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who has helped plan the event along with her employer, Community Development Inc. More than 1,300 volunteers have signed up, she said.
Access to health care services, especially in north Baton Rouge, has been difficult in recent years after the closures of multiple emergency rooms and hospitals in the area. Emergency room access was restored in north Baton Rouge just a few months ago, with the opening of Our Lady of the Lake's small, stand-alone emergency room connected to a primary care and urgent care hub.
But even with health care providers available in the area, it can be a challenge for people to afford health care. Not everyone has insurance, and other people are deterred by their immigration status and other concerns.
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Clinic organizers say none of that should deter people from coming to the clinic this weekend. People seeking services also do not have to come from Baton Rouge. Annette Droddy, the assistant executive director of the Louisiana Dental Association, said they see it as a statewide event rather than specific to Baton Rouge, and dentists from across the state have signed up to help, she said.
Dental services are likely to be the most popular among the weekend's offerings, Collins-Lewis and Droddy predicted. Many health insurance plans do not include dental coverage and adults who are covered by Medicaid have few dental services covered, aside from dentures, Droddy said.
The Louisiana Mission of Mercy — the foundation that works with the Louisiana Dental Association — has helped put on free dental clinics in the past few years in Baton Rouge and Westwego. Extractions, fillings and cleanings were the most popular services during those clinics, though dentists also performed some partial denture procedures and some root canals as well.
"It's very hard to do some type of pop-up dental clinic like this because there's so much equipment necessary," Droddy said, thanking the sponsors that are helping them set up the 80 chairs for the dental component of the event.
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Collins-Lewis suggested people arrive early. She said organizers should know relatively early in the day how long people might wait for services and that they will tell people whether they need to come back the next day.
"We don't want people to stand in line all day and not be able to receive services," Collins-Lewis said.