Mobile Free Clinic Brings Health Care to US's Most Underserved Areas


At Wise, RAM has "all the different specialists, all the way from cardiology, OB-GYN, pulmonology, nephrology, dermatology," Gardner said. "It's a really good opportunity for the patients to come out and get some very good care that they wouldn't otherwise have access to."

Patients like Robert Ellis, who like everyone else who comes to RAM is first put through a triage process during which he is screened for high blood pressure, diabetes, and other possible undiagnosed conditions. Careful questioning can reveal a potentially serious problem.

"They are going to check my heart out and stuff. See about that feeling I've been having," Ellis says. "I've been having chest pains lately. Not often. It's starting to come more often."

His visit to the dentist and hearing aid tent will have to wait while he first sees a cardiologist.

According to Gardner, every year they save lives, sometimes right in the triage line.

"You find people having strokes, heart attacks, elevated blood sugars. We do a lot of emergency care here on sight," she said.

In fact, six people over the course of the weekend are found by the mobile X-ray unit to be walking around with broken limbs.

"Even though the care here is quality care, we don't need to be doing this in the world's richest country," Brock says. "I would rather be back in Haiti, in India and Africa, and where this organization began in the Amazon than doing it here in the world's richest country. But I don't see this ending anytime soon."

RAM is mostly funded by donations and receives no government funding.

"We rely on those $5 and $10 checks from the public," Brock says. "And not from the patients, I might add. Absolutely not from the patients."

RAM also relies on its army of volunteers, many of whom have been coming for years and travel on their own dime to come.

Anna Rollins has been coming since she was 8 years old.

"I just started doing statistical work. Eventually I moved up to being a [dental] assistant," she says. "And now I am looking at going to hygiene school."

Dentist Scott Miller makes sets of dentures for patients who have not had any teeth sometimes for years.

"It's the only thing that I can do that I can change somebody's life, like that," Miller said, snapping his fingers. "It's great. Rewarding. And it's what brings me back every year."

Dr. John Osborne, the dental director for RAM, summed it up. "For me it's really the most basic thing that I went to dental school for."

Brock said he would be able to hold more events around the country and help more patients if states would be less strict about allowing volunteer doctors from other states to practice temporarily within their borders.

"People come all the way from Florida, all the way from Michigan, all the way from Wisconsin, New Jersey ... because we're not allowed in those states because they won't allow doctors to cross state lines," he said.

It is the thought of having to turn away people that haunts Brock.

"This means if you don't have [enough] volunteers at an event of this size you are going to be turning hundreds and hundreds of people away."

Luckily for Robert Ellis, he wasn't turned away and the 15-mile walk was worth it.

"They changed my blood pressure medicine. I had my hearing checked. I'm going to need hearing aids. They fit molds on both my ears. Thank god. I needed that."

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