For three days, Wise County Fairgrounds hosts a gathering both grim and inspiring. This is when Remote Area Medical puts on a massive free clinic, drawing thousands without healthcare. RAM says their mission is to provide medical care “through mobile clinics in underserved, isolated, or impoverished communities,” noting they typically supply “general medical, dental, vision, preventive care, and education.”
Amy Woolard covered one of these three-day clinics for VQR. She notes that RAM was founded in 1985 by now 80-year-old Stan Brock, “a British philanthropist, actor, author, naturalist, cowboy, and the former cohost of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” She writes:
“His commitment to the RAM mission is total: He has no assets, no personal entanglements, and no regular activities outside those of the organization. He sleeps on a mat on the floor of his office, exercises every day, and manages and works at nearly all of the clinics—a dedication that comes across as monkish, but styled in a khaki safari jumpsuit and baseball cap, complete with the RAM logo.”
Of course, the organization goes far beyond Brock. With very few actual staffers, it is “completely dependent upon thousands of volunteers for everything from performing oral surgery to making baggies of Cheerios to hand out to patients’ toddlers.” (All funding comes from corporate and private donations.) Originally set up for international disaster relief, it has been doing more and more work in the United States, caring for Americans who have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
Woolard’s lengthy piece devotes a great deal of time to the potential patients who come for the clinic. (Not that all of them get treatment—massive as the RAM operation is, even it has its limits.) It’s both moving and informative, reminding us how poverty creates problems that generate even more problems. (For instance, foods high in sugars tend to be cheaper, which becomes doubly troubling if you don’t have dental care.)