Reaching out

Kiwanis across Blount gearing up to help with health care

He asked for water.

When members of the Alcoa Kiwanis club asked the state director of the Remote Area Medical team how the club could help with a two-day clinic he was organizing in Blount County, Ron Brewer just asked for water.

But the club presidents said, “We can do more,” and a partnership began not only with RAM and Alcoa Kiwanis, but with all three Kiwanis clubs in the county.

Now, Kiwanians are seeing first hand how widespread and dire the need is for free medical care in this region. Members from the Maryville, Alcoa and Foothills clubs are prepping for a two day clinic that is predicted to bring dental, vision and medical care to more than 600 indigent and under-insured on Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13, when Remote Area Medical visits Blount County.

RAM will be providing free medical, optical and dental services to indigent patients during the two-day walk-in clinic at Heritage Middle School. Club members are busy recruiting restaurants and hotels to provide food and lodging for the visiting doctors, dentists and other professionals.

It was during one such visit at a local restaurant that Alcoa club president Herk Holbert saw how people in Blount County need help. Holbert was waiting to speak with a manager and had given information about the RAM clinic to a server so she could pass it on to the manager before they talked.

“The waitress said, ‘Does that fit me?’ She needs dental work, has no insurance and can’t afford it,” Holbert said.

The need touches many, Holbert said, from all walks of life.

“I have a friend with six children and no insurance,” he said.

According to the RAM website,, the vision for Remote Area Medical was developed in the Amazon rain forest where founder Stan Brock spent 15 years with the Wapishana Indians. He lived with the pain and suffering created by isolation from medical care. Brock said he witnessed the near devastation of whole tribes by what would have been simple or minor illnesses to more advanced cultures. When he left South America to co-star in the television series “Wild Kingdom,” he vowed to find a way to deliver basic medical aid to people in the world’s inaccessible regions.

The organization was founded in 1985 and years of research and planning yielded a vast, carefully developed network of men and women who have come together to make RAM a highly mobile, efficient relief force. Volunteers are doctors, nurses, technicians and veterinarians who go on expeditions at their own expense and treat hundreds of patients a day, sometimes under some of the worst conditions.

Volunteers have provided general medical, surgical, eye, dental, and veterinary care to tens of thousands of people and animals, with 60 percent of the expeditions serving rural America. There are plans for expansion of US expeditions, an airborne medical treatment center, a permanent clinic site in Guyana, and a program start-up in Africa.

RAM has conducted more than 400 expeditions, both in the United States and abroad. The nature of the expeditions has varied as needs arose and resources became available.

The most frequent sort of expedition consists of vision, dental, and women’s health services in Appalachia. Each month, volunteers spend a weekend providing these services to communities who have invited RAM to help. While the expedition may only last for two or three days, months of work go into each one.

The host community, usually led by a health council or other local organization, lines up local logistics and volunteers, recruiting as many professionals as possible. Then, RAM brings in the necessary equipment on the day before the expedition starts. Professional volunteers put in as much time as they are able during the expedition.

The Kiwanians got involved because of a program at the Alcoa Kiwanis club about six to eight weeks ago. Brock visited the Alcoa club and did a program on RAM, and a member asked Holbert what they could do to help. He called Brock, who advised him to touch base with Ron Brewer, RAM state director, who was in the process of setting up the July 12 and 13 RAM at Heritage Middle.

Initially Brewer asked the club if they would provide water for the volunteers and patients. Holbert explained that Kiwanians could do much more if asked.

“He (Brewer) poured his heart out, and I said, ‘Let’s get together.’ I met with presidents of Foothills and the Maryville Kiwanis clubs, and we all agreed to work together on this project. We sat down and started discussing what we needed,” Holbert said.

Incoming Alcoa president Bill Hogan said the project sounded like a great opportunity that filled an enormous need. “There are people who need medical attention who don’t have medical insurance. Times are tough right now, and we’re offering free dental services. We’ll provide a significant amount of dental support, as well as eye exams and glasses. It really fits. Also, having heard Ron Brewer talk about the services they provide, I got pretty enthused about it,” Hogan said. “It’s not costing us anything but time, and I think the Kiwanis clubs have done a tremendous job of going out and garnering assistance from local hotels and eateries to provide food and lodging. I think the community has responded very, very well.”

Holbert said the project fit the club’s mission of serving children. “That is what Kiwanis is all about, serving the community,” he said.

But the project did turn out to be bigger than some imagined. “I don’t think we realized how big it was and what all was needed to make sure the needs are met and RAM gets full support,” Holbert said.

Holbert said Blount Memorial Hospital’s Good Samaritan Clinic came on board with nurses and professional people and doctors. “The hospital is furnishing a lot of the medical support needed,” he said.

Hogan said RAM is used to doing this type of clinic by themselves without the type of help the Kiwanis clubs are providing. “They really do need the assistance. It makes it easier for them to put it on. Otherwise, they’re beating the bushes. They’ve been successful though. They focus on Tennessee and also do it outside the country,” he said. “Tennessee is one of few states they can bring medical folks from out of the state. Most states, because of licenses, won’t permit it.”

Clients need to show up early so they can get in line, said Brewer.

“When I say early, I mean midnight. People will be lining up. Last time we were over in Blount County at RIO church, people were in line at 7 in the evening the night before,” he said.

Brewer suggested that since the clinic will be in the middle of July, clients will want to bring bottled water and snacks in case they’re in line for a while. Once inside the team of doctors and nurses will do vision, dental or general health.

“If they choose vision and dental, it will be almost impossible for them to do both that day,” he said. “I expect we’ll have between 600 and 700 people combined both days. Right now I’m up to 12 volunteer dentists and doctors, some from as far away as California.”

Doctors and dentists also will come from North Carolina, Maryland and Ohio. “I know we have some dental hygienists coming in from Pennsylvania, plus we’ll have local dentists and doctors volunteering their services,” he said.

As director of RAM’s Tennessee and Kentucky Rural America Program, Brewer goes across the state setting up the free vision and dental and general health clinics in rural areas. At the Blount clinic, RAM will be serving clients from Blount, Loudon, Sevier and Monroe counties.

“We get calls from the Blount County area. Blount County is no different from any other county across the state. We have under-insured and uninsured residents in this county,” Brewer said.

“Blount County is fortunate because we do have the Trinity Clinic for dental and the Good Samaritan Clinic. Some counties across the state don’t even have that,” he said.

Holbert said set up for the clinic will be on Friday July 11. “Some of the professional people are flying in their own private planes. We’ve worked real hard to help them so they can be prepared to help people who need help,” he said. “A lot of these professional people are paying for their own rooms. We are furnishing some, but some are paying for their own rooms and doing a free service.”

Holbert said hotels such as Courtyard by Marriott, Hamilton Inn, Jameson Inn and Mainstay were donating rooms. Restaurants agreeing to help so far include Aubrey’s, Chick-Fil-A, Cracker Barrel, O’Charley’s, Texas Roadhouse and Up the Creek.

Alcoa, Inc., is donating water, Tennessee Ice Co. is furnishing ice and help is also coming from companies such as Wal-Mart, Little Debbie and Kroger. Blount County Sheriff’s Office is lending assistance and Good Samaritan Clinic and Blount Memorial Hospital are contributing also.

“We’re very dependent upon (the hospital),” Hogan said.

“And the good Lord.” Holbert said. “How blessed we are to be able to be a blessing to help someone else.”

Maryville Kiwanis president Bunker Handly said the club was glad to get involved in the county-wide effort. While the club typically focuses on helping children, seeing that RAM helps children and adults, the club saw the project as a good fit. It will take 100 to 200 volunteers over the course of the weekend to make the event happen, he said.

“Our civic club does a lot to raise money. A lot of our focus has been on Dolly Parton Imagination Library, but this is an opportunity for Kiwanis collectively to actually get involved in a true service project,” Handly said.

Foothills Kiwanis Club president Bob Patterson said the club wanted to get involved in the project after the Maryville and Alcoa clubs asked them to participate and make it a county-wide effort. “We’re a small club. We have 17 members but we thought it was a good idea,” Patterson said. “We are participating and helping to get sponsors and supplying volunteers. It looks like all our club members are going to participate.”

For information about volunteering for the two-day event, call Holbert at 865-983-7657 or Pat Marshall at 865-984-2551.

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