RAM serves Blount County, care still available today
By Rheta Murry | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Saturday afternoon marked the first day of the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Free Medical Expedition at Heritage High School.
RAM opened the gates at midnight, passed out numbers at 3 a.m. and started seeing patients at 6 a.m. With the help of a program Mike Whaley, RAM’s California affiliate, wrote three years ago, the agency tracked the number of people receiving service per hour, and the value of the care provided. For example, at 1:50 p.m., 167 of 327 people received dental care valued at nearly $200,000.
Dentists cleaned, filled and extracted teeth at 32 stations, while several dozen clients still waited for service in one gymnasium.
In another room, eye professionals and optometry students checked people’s eyes, helped them select eyeglasses and performed other duties during the first day of the RAM two-day clinic in Blount County. Clients received all this care at no charge, and the professionals volunteered their time to help those without health insurance or were unable to afford care.
Ron Brewer, RAM director, said 23 dentists and 12 dental hygienists from a Chattanooga dental school assisted clients. He said he thought that by around 4 p.m., nearly everyone should be seen.
Maryville resident Tammy Williams sat in the hallway outside another gymnasium waiting for her eyeglasses. This was her first time having her eyes checked, as well her first experience with RAM.
“It surprised me how orderly it was,” she said. “They had plenty of people telling us where to go for the next step.”
She said the doctor who tested her eyes for glaucoma will refer her to another optometrist later to perform another test for the disease.
“He didn’t have anything to compare with,” she said.
Chris Hall, RAM director of operations, manned one station in the mobile optometry lab behind the school. Inside, about a dozen people manipulated machines to create eyeglasses for clients such as Williams, creating 35 pairs of eyeglasses an hour. In most cases, clients took home their glasses that day.
In the dental room, several Blount County residents said they spent nearly all day sitting on the bleachers waiting for dental care. They said they felt frustrated at what they said was a slower process, yet they felt appreciative of the care they would soon receive.
The Military Department of Tennessee, Tennessee State Guard, 3rd Alvin C. York Regiment, provided security at the high school Saturday, something they do during all Tennessee events that are free of charge. Staff Sgt. Nicholas Baker, of Powell, said he had worked approximately 10 to 15 medical expeditions in the past several years. In addition to security, they handed out the numbers to people wanting care, and made sure the volunteers had water and food, and offer assistance where needed. For example, Baker said he gave a jump start to an individual’s vehicle Saturday afternoon. The unit also handled several small incidents involving what Lt. Col. Glen Frisco described as someone perceiving someone else cutting in line, and ensuing arguments.
“They don’t have to be fighting for spots,” Frisco said. “Everyone will receive care.” Most people, he added, feel very grateful to receive the care they need.
Greenback resident Charlotte Hurst was hugging Brewer near the end of the day. The 62-year-old woman said she was very appreciative of all the care she’d received. In the past two years, RAM dentists had pulled all of her teeth so that she could get dentures. Yesterday, she said she had to come in to get one more tooth pulled — a wisdom tooth that had come in several months ago.
“There is no way I would ever be able to get all my teeth pulled,” she said. As she watched the dentists and hygienists filling up the room and working on clients, she said she always cries after she has received care.
“They don’t’ have to do this,” she said. “And, they need to be encouraged. No one knows what a blessing this is.”
RAM will conduct a second clinic today. Like Saturday, numbers were handed out at about 3 a.m. this morning, and the doors opened at 6:30 a.m. According to Brewer, it’s not too late to come in for care. However those coming in later may not receive dental care because of long lines. People will more than likely be able to receive optometry and medical care later in the morning.