Written by Anna Cibils, PPF Base Building and Fundraising Teams

Last weekend (June 3rd-5th), eight Put People First! PA members from Pittsburgh, Johnstown, York, and Philadelphia volunteered at the Mission of Mercy (MOM-n-PA) Dental Clinic in Pittsburgh. MOM is a free dental clinic that happens once a year in different parts of Pennsylvania and provides comprehensive dental care to folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. Hundreds of people from the area who either have no dental insurance or who can’t afford to pay extremely high deductibles on their existing insurance came out to the Pittsburgh Convention Center to get the care they needed. PPF members volunteered in many capacities including as patient ambassadors and interpreters.

When we weren’t volunteering, we listened to patients tell stories of their experiences with the health system and engaged in conversations about the possibilities that would exist if universal healthcare was a reality in Pennsylvania. We also used the Healthcare Survey that PPF developed in 2015 to collect stories from about 50 people about how rising healthcare costs are affecting their ability to meet their basic needs. Several conversations stand out in my memory, including one with a woman who had been at the clinic since 4 A.M. who expressed her frustration at the power of insurance companies to set arbitrary deductible rates that had made it impossible for her to get the treatment she needs. Another patient I spoke with was adamant about the fact that it is unjust for wealthier people to have access to better care and we talked for a long time about why we are in favor of universal healthcare.

Bahjah and Kim help with check-in at Mission of Mercy 2016 in Pittsburgh.

I volunteered as a Spanish interpreter at MOM and in this role I was reminded of the lack of knowledge that exists in the healthcare field regarding barriers that lower income and undocumented immigrants face in accessing health care. I spent all of Saturday interpreting for an immigrant family who was able to get care that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive, but who also needed more care than the clinic was able to provide that day. I was especially grateful in that moment to be volunteering as a member of PPF, because we were able to connect the family to an immigrant rights and advocacy group in Pittsburgh who agreed to assist the family in finding resources for continued care.

I’m thankful for the partnership that PPF and MOM have developed over the years, so that we can reach Pennsylvanians most affected by the current healthcare crisis.

For me, this trip reaffirmed the importance of Put People First! PA’s work, because it’s not enough for dental care to be treated as a human right in Pennsylvania only once a year. I’m excited to see how the connections we made this weekend lead to emerging PPF leaders in Western PA, which will allow us to continue building power across Pennsylvania to transform our health system and break isolation for people who face a daily battle to meet their basic needs.

A special thank you to PPF members and friends who hosted us in Pittsburgh, including Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson, Eve Wider, and friends of our newest field organizer Ben Fiorillo!

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