Hundreds of people camped out in their cars at Heritage Middle School Friday, July 11, waiting for the doors to open on Saturday.
It wasn’t school or tickets to a sporting event that brought them there. It was a need for help.
Uninsured and underinsured people from as far away as Louisiana came to Heritage in hopes to be treated at Remote Area Medical’s weekend clinic. Funded solely through volunteers, the clinic offered free vision, dental, general medicine and mammography care.
Ron Brewer, RAM’s state director of rural areas, said 701 people received care from 294 volunteers over the two days of the clinic. The clinics were organized locally with the help of Alcoa, Maryville and Foothills Kiwanis clubs. Out of the 701, 44 people received mammograms and 256 glasses were made. Adding up the expenses, patients received roughly $113,000 worth of care.
This is not the first time RAM has been in Blount County. Four years ago RAM had its first clinic in Blount County and treated a few more than 250 people. Brewer said success for him is in the numbers. “When you see 701 people treated, you know how important the clinic is,” he said. “They already asked us to return two years later.”
Neal Rudd arrived at Heritage Middle at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. At 48-years-old, Rudd is on disability and has to provide for his three children. His disability check and food stamps help him meet ends meet but leaves nothing for medical work. This clinic was an opportunity Rudd said he could not pass it up.
He was there to have his teeth pulled in preparation to get dentures. In all, 13 were extracted and Rudd said he will have the rest pulled soon. He said without the clinic he would have to wait at least another year before he could even imagine being fitted for dentures.
“God laid it on (the doctors’) hearts to give these people this opportunity,” Rudd said. “A prayer was answered.”
RAM offered more than just the clinic to Rudd, who called after the weekend because there were complications with his tooth extractions. Immediately upon calling one of the dentists, Brewer found the solution to Rudd’s problem. The home remedy was passed on and Rudd is recovering.
Janet Cunningham and her husband arrived Friday at 11 p.m. This was Cunningham’s third RAM clinic. As she waited, more and more cars arrived, but she knew she would receive treatment because she was 73rd in line. At 41years old, Cunningham said it was worth it to spend the night, as dentistry is one of RAM’s sought out services.
“The impact of RAM is all over the world. It is a blessing,” she said. “For them to be reaching out at their (hometown), it is so neat.”
Not everyone was fortune enough to see a physician. On Saturday, vision and dentistry filled up first, followed shortly by general practice medicine. Just shy of three and a half hours, at 9:45 a.m., Brewer had to start turning people away. Karen Brown, 31, said she and her two children, Ian and Mykala, were told to go home.
Twelve years ago, Brown moved to Tennessee partially for TennCare, the state’s Medicaid. Brown was on the program until Gov. Bredesen cut the numbers due to budget issues in 2005. Since then Brown’s two children have been adopted by CoverKids which offers them health insurance.
Brown and her children arrived late to the clinic but her husband, James, arrived early and was able to see a doctor. James Brown, 36, said he has suffered two heart attacks and is uninsured because of career changes. He came to have his leg examined, because it was giving him constant pain. Brown said the doctors were unable to give him a prognosis and suggested to see a regular doctor. But with no health insurance, Karen Brown said her family will “just have to manage.”
Even with the people RAM had to turn away, Brewer said he would not have done anything differently. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he said.
Brewer said his only regret is that he wishes he could have had a larger space. By the end of Sunday most of the volunteers went home. Brewer said there were some that wanted to continue, but he had to tell the doctors it was time to stop. “They wanted to work longer hours, but I couldn’t have just one dentist,” he said.
The next clinic from Remote Area Medical will be in Cleveland, Tenn., on Aug. 9 and 10. Vision, dental and general practice medicine will be offered.