On June 5-6, hundreds of people were able to receive free vision, dental and medical care during the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Free Clinic held in Hazard. Some were local, while others drove hours from other states to receive the care they needed.
Remote Area Medical is a major non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent and alleviate pain and suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need. The organization, founded by Stan Brock in 1985, accomplishes this by organizing and holding pop-up dental, vision and medical clinics to areas with underserved, uninsured and underinsured individuals who don’t have access to or who can’t afford a doctor. “RAM is non-profit organization. We specialize in setting up mobile medical, dental and vision clinics around the country and around the world,” said Chris Hall, RAM chief operating officer.
When patients arrive at the clinic, Hall said, they must choose between vision or dental services, but can still receive medical services along with the clinic they choose. This, he said, is due to the high amount of people requiring those services and the limited amount of time the volunteers have.
“Dental and vision are the two most requested services. They’re also the timeliest services, they take the most time for a patient coming in,” said Hall, explaining that patients have to choose their main concern at the time.
The need for these services, he said, are seen across the country.
“We do these events in rural Appalachia all the way out to Los Angeles, Oklahoma, the southern border of Texas; the need is everywhere. On average, 60-65 percent of patients are coming in requesting dental services,” said Hall.
Since RAM’s founding in 1985, officials with the organization said that approximately 863,700 individuals have been served with $174 million worth of free care provided by 172,900 volunteers. According to RAM officials, the number of people served by RAM has gradually increased over the years. In 2015, RAM reportedly served 27,856 individuals; in 2016 they served 32,120 individuals; in 2017 they served 42,072 individuals; in 2018 they served 45,566 individuals; in 2019 they served 50,059 individuals; and in 2020 RAM served 76,604 individuals. This year, officials said, will also potentially see high numbers following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Events like this, even prior to the pandemic, were very important. Eye exams, it’s recommended to get an eye exam every year,” said Hall, stating that eye exams can help track other health issues. “During the pandemic, the need for our services only increased. At one point of the pandemic, dental offices were closed.”
Once the offices began opening back up, he said, they began to see an increase in the amount of people needing services.
“So dental offices, optical offices, medical offices are over loaded right now,” said Hall, adding that people are coming to get services now that restrictions have lessened. “It makes the need for this event even more important for the community and for the area.”
The RAM Clinic, said Hall, helps lessen that level of stress on local medical facilities by providing additional care while the clinic is in town.
“We’re providing services to a few hundred people and those people are not burdening the system already around here in the community so not only are they getting free care, it’s helping alleviate some of the stress on the existing community,” Hall said.
In order to provide as many services as possible and treat as many people as possible, RAM recruits and utilizes volunteers for the clinics. Volunteers include licensed nurses, physician assistants, doctors, dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists, ophthalmologists and opticians, as well as dental, vision and medical students and general support volunteers who can assist with patient registration, interpreting, patient transport and clinic set up and tear down.
Colleen Madigan, a RAM medical supervisor who has volunteered with RAM for eight years, is a resident of Bristol, Virginia, and drove hours to serve during the clinic. Madigan said she feels that serving with RAM was her calling and has helped her fulfill her dream of helping people.
“The first couple of years I worked with RAM I worked in triage and I realized the patients I was exposed to that this was why I became a nurse so I basically asked to become more involved,” said Madigan.
After that, she said she took early retirement from teaching nursing to pursue RAM.
“This is my passion,” Madigan said.
Being able to offer services to people who need them, she said, was always something she wanted to do, but working in a hospital setting produced certain obstacles such as inability to pay or insurance coverage.
“I’ve been a nurse for 42 years. This is why I became a nurse. We are faced with so many obstacles in the hospital,” said Madigan. “My first RAM clinic spoke to me so much. It gives me so much comfort and satisfaction and knowledge that everything I worked for to become a nurse, I’m finally able to do what I wanted to do for the patients and there’s not as many obstacles. I am so fulfilled doing these clinics.”
RAM clinics and services offered are based on the volunteers, said RAM officials. During the recent Hazard clinic, RAM volunteers were able to offer a wide variety of services including internal medicine; family practice; pediatrics; women’s health; mental health; COVID-19 vaccinations; physical therapy; Hep C testing, treatment and counseling; diabetes screening; bone density testing and more.
Hundreds of people attended the event to receive care for those services. Many were local, while others drove hours from other states and many stayed in the parking lot overnight to receive the care they needed.
One family who drove from another state was the family of Becky Bowling, 61, and her grandson Cameron Evans, 11. The family, said Bowling, drove from Morgan County, Tennessee, and stayed overnight to receive services. Bowling and Evans attended RAM with Bowling’s husband and Evans’s mother. The whole family was able to be seen and cared for, said Bowling. The clinic, she said, was a blessing to her family especially after the pandemic and other recent hardships.
“We came here because he (Cameron) was in need of glasses and his mother is in dire need of getting her teeth fixed. He just recently lost his daddy so this has been a blessing because he has no insurance, his mother has no insurance and we really needed this help. This is a true blessing,” said Bowling. “They had to move in with us because his mother lost her car. When his father died they lost their insurance and they don’t qualify for food stamps because they have to go by my income. It’s just been hard. Losing a father is hard and then going into a pandemic was hard.”
Evans, said Bowling, had been having trouble seeing at school and while playing baseball, but will now be able to improve in both areas after receiving the glasses he needed at RAM. Evans will be starting sixth grade in August. “He’s probably going to be the most improved player with the glasses helping him,” said Bowling.
Evans said being able to receive the glasses and see his family get the care they needed meant a lot to him and his family.
“It’s meant a lot to me because we can’t always afford glasses,” he said.
The clinic, said Bowling, is a wonderful event and she is thankful for what it was able to do for her family.
“I think it’s excellent. I think it’s a fantastic thing,” she said.
To donate to or volunteer with RAM, or to learn more about the clinics, visit, ramusa.org.