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Senator Warner's visit to Wise County Health Wagon is worth $1.25 million

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WISE, Va. – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner looked around the most quiet Wise County Fairgrounds Monday and remembered more hectic times.

Warner, D-Va., returned to the fairgrounds – longtime host site of Remote Area Medical clinics -- to formally present $1.25 million to the Health Wagon for construction of its new dental clinic.

“The reason why this fairgrounds is so special, it was 2002 – the first year I was governor – and I’d heard about what you guys were doing here,” Warner said prior to the check presentation. “I remember dentists from all over the commonwealth, but who was going to show up? It ended up being thousands and thousands of people – not only Southwest Virginia but from Michigan, from Florida – driving for days just to come here and get dental assistance.”

Warner returned many times, brought each of his children to help volunteer and had his Senate staff members come from across the state to volunteer so they better understood the issues.

“The memories I have are of hot days, 60-70 chairs at once where people were being taken care of,” he said. “One of the things that was so typical of Southwest was it was people caring for people. No matter how much crummy stuff was going on in the country or around the world, you could not come to the whole effort and not come away with a belief in the basic goodness of people.”

Similar efforts – on a lesser scale -- are underway at the fairgrounds for much of this week. About 100 military personnel and volunteer dentists and other health care providers are offering free health care, X-rays, dental care and vision screenings. Similar to RAM, the event is the Move Mountains medical mission. Appointments are required, but there is no charge for care.

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“What’s happening at the fairgrounds is great. It is not a permanent, long-term solution,” Warner said. “

The $1.25 million in Congressionally designated spending will go toward construction of the Health Wagon’s new dental clinic, now being built in Wise.

Dr. Joe Smiddy, chair of the Health Wagon board described the $2.2 million dental clinic

“We’ll have a 10-chair dental teaching clinic. It has a tele-dentistry clinic, a crown mill and a generous waiting room. It is designed for COVID with negative air flow. Its state-of-the-art dentistry,” he said.

The clinic will operate in cooperation with the new Lincoln Memorial University dental school. It is expected to open this fall, according to Dr. Teresa Tyson, Health Wagon president and CEO.

“We are really excited to have the funding to support this dental initiative that is going to go so far to alleviate pain and suffering in the region,” she said. “I think dental pain is one of the worst pains you can have. “For the 20 years we had Remote Area Medical in Wise County and the MOM [Move Mountains] projects, we’ve been in crisis mode trying to get the next person in the dental chair, to get the next tooth pulled.”

Dentures are another issue because demand outweighs supply and those in need typically go on a waiting list, Tyson said.

“We want to move into a very proactive stance where maybe we can save that tooth and proactive with oral health education, giving people a formal dental plan to identify what those needs are,” she said. | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC |

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