Aug. 14, 2009— -- Stan Brock has been in the disaster relief business for 25 years, providing free medical care to all who come to see him.
"If you've got a mouth full of bad teeth and you can't see to function, to get a job, for you it is a disaster," he said.
Through his Remote Area Medical Foundation, Brock has staged 346 clinics in 12 states across the country since 1992, primarily in rural counties.
But there's nothing remote about Brock's location this week. He has set up shop for eight days in Los Angeles to treat thousands of working poor who are either underinsured or uninsured and can't afford basic medical services.
"People ask me, 'What are you doing in Los Angeles? That's not very remote,'" he said. "For people that simply can't afford health care in this country, the opportunity to get it is remote."
Local resident Charzetta Williams said, "It's a jungle in downtown Los Angeles. We need it here, too."
Sixteen-year-old Ayana, who wouldn't give her last name, said, "Because if this wasn't here, we would be able to go to the doctor for who knows how long. It's been a really long time."
Remote Area Medical hopes to treat 8,000 patients while in Los Angeles, providing the equivalent of $200,000 in medical care.
The clinics are run by volunteers -- from the greeters to the nurses, dentists and doctors. Even veterinarians at some of the rural clinics. They try to ensure that every patient gets the care he or she needs, including a follow-up visit if necessary.
"All of this operation is supported by kind donations from the general public," he said. "This is entirely a volunteer operation."
Brock, 73, founded the Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical in 1985 to assist the underserved in developing countries. In the course of its history, the foundation has treated 380,000 patients and provided care valued at $37 million, Brock said.
Brock still travels across borders but his primary mission has changed.
"I was very surprised, actually, that we ended up doing this in the United States," he said. "And now 64 percent of all the work we do is right here."
At one time, Brock could have been one of the thousands waiting on line.
"I've been one of these people," he said. "I've been homeless. I've been without money and without health care and so, knowing that, and knowing the obstacles that they face really is the impetus."
Trying to Meet the Demand
Remote Area Medical served 24,000 patients in the United States last year on a budget of $944,000, Brock said. But the clinics only last a few days and there's not enough time or volunteers to treat everyone.
"When we get to the end of the day on the last day, and there are still women out there holding up their kids just wanting us to see one more and we have to tell them I'm sorry, that's the worst part of this job," Brock said.
For Brock, it isn't about co-pays or insurance premiums -- it's just about caring for others.
"What is great, though, is to see someone that's been in the dental chair get thousands of dollars of free dental care, or been through the eye doctor's clinic and got a brand new pair of glasses and now they can see to get a job or read the newspaper," he said. "And they go up to the doctor or hug the dentist. Go up to the volunteers and give them a hug or shake their hand and say, 'Thanks for coming.'"
Brock and the Remote Area Medical team will leave Los Angeles Tuesday. Their next clinic will be in Roane County, Tenn., in September.