The Wise County event is in its 20th year as a joint effort between Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical and Wise County-based the Health Wagon and is expected to reach a second milestone Sunday: its 100,000th patient.
Paula Hill, clinical director for the Health Wagon, said the arrival Saturday of dental teams from the University of Buffalo and Howard University will boost patient numbers from Friday’s approximately 450 to 1,000 or more Saturday at the Wise County Fairgrounds.
While a handful of dental teams handled a few patients, Hill said the largest demand Friday was for eye exams and glasses. More than 200 people filled the ophthalmological waiting area through the day.
Anna Porter of Dungannon came to the clinic for the first time Friday with Jessica Lane for new glasses. Even with the waiting time, Porter said she had no complaints.
“They are awesome and very sweet,” Porter said.
“You can’t be impatient for them giving their time,” Lane said of doctors and volunteers at RAM. “They’re out here volunteering their time. Why complain when they’re giving that time for this?”
Lane said she has come to the event along with family members to get medical care for 16 years, but she misses Stan Brock, founder of RAM, who died in October.
“He was nice to everyone who came here, and he worked hard for us,” Lane said, as a RAM crew overflew the fairgrounds in the DC-3 transport plane that Brock traditionally flew to the annual event.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam toured the clinic with Hill, Health Wagon Executive Director Teresa Tyson and RAM CEO Jeff Eastman.
In a press conference after the tour, Northam was asked if he supported free health care for all. He said he supported health care for all, but added that some Virginians can afford health insurance and some cannot.
“We have to have creative ways we can finance (health care),” Northam said. “It’s going to take all of us coming up with a plan.”
RAM volunteers provided more than eye care and dental work on Friday. Several foundations and community organizations furnished meals, supply bags, donated children’s clothing, mental health and community resource information, ultrasounds, diagnostic tests and physical exams.
Eastman said the clinic shows both strengths in the local community and weaknesses in health care accessibility across the U.S.
“What you find here is neighbors helping neighbors,” Eastman said of the weekend event. “RAM has used a community host model where we help organize, and local volunteers come together to provide all the services you see here.”
With a combination of medical and social services, donated supplies and clothing and other services co-located at the same site, Eastman said RAM makes finding those services easier.
“If they’re lucky, many people have one car per family,” Eastman said. “Going to the doctor can be difficult even if they have insurance because of the cost of a copay or getting time off to go to the doctor. We bring resources together so people with needs don’t have to struggle. We deliver services and they leave with their needs met.”
“People all make this happen,” Eastman said. “Somebody may be a patient today, but they’ll come back on Sunday to help load a truck.”
Gates at RAM open Saturday and Sunday at 6 a.m.