By 8:30 Friday morning, the line had grown to around a hundred people outside Horizonte Instruction and Training Center. Freddy Martinez and his son Lucas were there from Orem, waiting for the annual CARE Fair to open, to get a dental check up for his son.
“My friends told me, ‘You have to be early, because a lot of people will be in line.’ So, we were here for two hours.” said Martinez, who is uninsured. It was his first time at the event.
The Martinez’s are among several thousand Utahns who will come to the two-day event where volunteer medical providers take over a five story building. They provide immunizations, blood testing for cholesterol and diabetes, car seats and many other free services for Utah’s uninsured and under-insured.
Room 342, an English classroom with posters of Shakespeare quotes, nouns and adjectives on the walls had become an immunization clinic. Room 440, the fitness center was now filled with physical therapy tables.
On the fifth floor, room 524 was one of the busiest. The classroom with paper kites and Chinese dragons suspended from the ceiling had been transformed into a pop-up dental clinic. Around 17 hygienists were busy doing cleanings and checking for more serious maladies like oral cancers, abscesses and chipped and loose teeth.
“People don’t go to the dentist because they’re afraid of pain. And then they go to the dentist because they’re in pain,” said Karen Brown, a faculty member at Fortis College whose dental students were there getting volunteer hours. “Just from what I’m seeing there are quite a few [people] who will require more dental care.”
Brown said the fact that dental care is expensive is likely behind the busy clinic. Or the fact that dental benefits are not included in some health plans.
The CARE Fair is sponsored by the Junior League of Salt Lake City. It serves people who don’t qualify for, or aren’t aware of, Medicaid and CHIP coverage, immigrants and refugees, the uninsured, or those who simply can’t get to the doctor during the work week.
“Those people still need health care and health services,” said Richard Backman, a family physician and the medical director of the fair. “There’s not a lot of safety net clinics available here in Salt Lake.”
Backman said many of those who come are Spanish speaking, or from African and Asian countries. Others are Native American or have been born and raised in Salt Lake City but have no access to health care. In past years they’ve served 3,500 people over the two days.
Children are a big age demographic for the event. In Utah, 7% of children are uninsured, which translates to about 71,000 kids, according to the children’s advocacy organization, Voices for Utah Children. Of those, 44% are Latino children, a higher proportion than any other state.
According to Backman the event is as much an opportunity for new medical professionals to learn about their communities as a chance for them to get volunteer hours towards their degrees.
“It helps us understand the communities that we live in, work in, and participate in,” Backman said. “It’s important to get your education, but it’s also important to serve your communities.”