In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Medical Teams International has converted its mobile dental clinics to emergency dental clinics. Photo courtesy of Medical Teams International

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Medical Teams International has converted its mobile dental clinics to emergency dental clinics. Photo courtesy of Medical Teams International

Medical Teams pivots to help with COVID-19 response in King, Snohomish counties

The organization has converted its dental fleet into a testing command center and emergency dental clinics.

Since its inception in 1979, Medical Teams International (MTI) has been responding to some of the world’s worst disasters.

From recruiting and sending medical teams to Thailand to help Cambodian refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge (the crisis that prompted Ron Post to found the organization), to providing medical care for survivors of the Rwandan genocide, South Asia tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010, responding to catastrophes is part of the MTI DNA.

The COVID-19 outbreak has been no different.

“We believe that every person matters to God and to us,” MTI CEO and president Martha Newsome said about why the faith-based organization does what it does. “As we respond to this crisis, it’s because we are motivated to love our neighbors and demonstrate our calling to dare to love like Jesus and boldly break barriers to health and restore healing in a broken world.”

As the health care community has been responding to the outbreak, MTI — which is based in Tigard, Oregon but also has locations in Seattle and Lynnwood (and until the organization sold its building in January, Redmond) — has pivoted its operations to help with this response.

Newsome said one of the things they have done since the pandemic picked up speed was repurposing and redirecting MTI’s dental van fleet.

Members of Swedish Issaquah Campus’s staff register patients at the drive-by COVID-19 testing site. The testing site is being supported by a Medical Teams International, which converted one of its mobile dental clinics into a command center for the site. Photo courtesy of Medical Teams International

Members of Swedish Issaquah Campus’s staff register patients at the drive-by COVID-19 testing site. The testing site is being supported by a Medical Teams International, which converted one of its mobile dental clinics into a command center for the site. Photo courtesy of Medical Teams International

The organization has partnered with Swedish Health Services to set up a drive-by COVID-19 testing site on the Swedish Issaquah Campus, with one of MTI’s dental vans as a command center. The van is similar to the front office of a clinic or doctor’s office where patient in-take and paperwork is handled.

“That’s what our van is doing to help that test site function in Issaquah,” Newsome said, adding that this started March 30 and the van operates Monday through Saturday.

The remaining five MTI dental vans in Washington have also been repurposed, she said.

Since the pandemic began, the organization canceled its regular mobile dental clinic, which provides free dental care to those who need it. Now the vans have become emergency dental clinics to provide services such as pain relief rather than preventative care. In addition, Newsome said these emergency dental clinics help get people out of hospital emergency rooms.

She said that as many dental practices have closed for the time being, many of the dentists and hygienists in their clinics are volunteering their time to the cause and these folks should be added to the list of health care heroes working during the pandemic.

A volunteer screens a potential patient before they are admitted to one of Medical Teams International’s emergency dental clinic. Photo courtesy of Medical Teams International

A volunteer screens a potential patient before they are admitted to one of Medical Teams International’s emergency dental clinic. Photo courtesy of Medical Teams International

According to the MTI website, emergency dental clinics are currently stationed in King County in Federal Way and Burien for the week of April 20. These clinics are “are only available to serve people experiencing homelessness or living in an unstable living situation. Patients will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and possible emergency dental needs at the Seattle King County Mobile Medical Van before they are sent to the Medical Teams Dental Clinic.” MTI also has two emergency dental clinics in Lynnwood this week. These clinics do not have any patient requirements, though patients will be served on a first-come, first-served basis.

Newsome said clinic locations may change from week to week. For more information on clinic schedules, visit bit.ly/3btlija.

Because MTI responds to emergencies and disasters around the world, Newsome said they have a distribution center in Oregon where they regularly receive donations of medical supplies. The organization recently received a large donation of about 75,000 personal protection equipment (PPE), which it has since donated to hospitals in Washington, Oregon and California. In Washington, Newsome said they have donated to hospitals including the Swedish Issaquah Campus, EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland and the University of Washington Medical Center’s entire hospital system.

“We’ve been really happy to do that…we’re glad that we can do something that is effective and needed,” she said.


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