BELOW: Earlier story, including tips for people who coming to SC Mission 2012 on Friday.
Henry Ross missed out on free dental care at S.C. Mission last year, and he was determined to avoid a repeat.
So Ross, a 59-year-old from North, arrived early Thursday at S.C. Mission 2012, about 20 hours before the gate to the State Fairgrounds parking lot opens.
“People say I’m crazy, but they don’t know what I went through last year and what’s going on in my mouth,” Ross said, while reclining in his van with both doors open to allow a cross wind.
Last year, he arrived at 2 a.m. the day of the event. After waiting 15 hours, he was told all of the dental spots were filled. He was given a number and told to come back the next day, when he might be able toget dental care.
He decided not to make the drive back to Columbia that day from North. Ross won’t have to worry this year. Not only was he first in line, but S.C. Mission will be able to serve hundreds more dental patients this year because it has been combined with the S.C. Dental Association’s Dental Access Days. The association expects to provide exams, cleaning and, if needed, extractions for at least 1,500 people.
Ross found the Gate 6 to the Fairgrounds was closed when he arrived. Security officials asked him to park on the other side of Assembly Street during the day. Organizers had hoped to discourage people from arriving before sundown.
People will be allowed into the football RV parking area overnight, then into the Fairground parking lot at 4 a.m. They then can line up based on their most pressing need -– medical, dental or eye care. The first few people in each line will be allowed to the processing area around 5:45 a.m. so they can be in examination areas at 6 a.m. Once inside the Fairgrounds, most of the waiting will be in air-conditioned areas. But when those areas fill up, people will have to wait in the parking lot.
Organizers have a better handle this year on how many people can be treated, and they plan to post signs to let those arriving later in the day if they have any chance of getting the care they need that day. S.C. Mission is a joint project of many health care groups in the Midlands. It’s designed to provide health care for the thousands of uninsured or underinsured in the state.
If you’re one of those planning to get free care at this weekend’s event – officially SC Mission 2012 Midlands and South Carolina Dental Access Days – here are some tips:
• It’s at the State Fairgrounds this year, and Gate 6 on Assembly Street opens at 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
• Volunteers will begin filling out paperwork and letting patients into the makeshift examining rooms and waiting areas at 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The event ends at 6 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday.
• Once you get inside, the waiting areas will be air-conditioned. If you have a collapsible chair, bring it. A bottle of water might be a good idea, too.
• The partnership with the S.C. Dental Association’s Dental Access Days means many more people will get free dental care this year. But organizers still expect dental and eye care slots will be the first to fill up. If you want dental or eye care, you should arrive early.
• The event is for ages 17 and older. While patients will be allowed to have a family member or friend as an escort, it’s best not to bring children. They won’t enjoy the inevitable waiting.
• If you can’t arrive early, call (803) 296-2900 to get an update on your chances of getting help later in the day. The phone message will be updated throughout the day to let you know if all available spots for medical, dental or eye care already have been filled.