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By Jeff Swicord
Knott County, Kentucky
23 December 2008
An organization whose mission is to bring free health care to some of the poorest countries in the world has turned its attention to the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau reports nearly 46 million Americans have not health insurance. And so several weekends a year, an organization called (RAM), flies doctors and equipment to some of poorest areas of the country and treats patients at a cost of under $4 each.
Doors open early
At six a.m., in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, Stan Brock opens the doors to his Remote Area Medical Clinic or RAM.
Normally, there would be 1,000 people in line waiting for free medical care. Below freezing temperatures have brought out a smaller crowd.
Stan Brock founded Remote Area Medical 23 years ago to bring care to developing countries. Soon after, he went to a rural county in the U.S. "And we were asked if we could go up there with a few dentists, because they had a lot of dental problems in the area," Brock recalled. "And we did, and were surprised by the turnout. And from there it just grew."
RAM clinic operations depend on a volunteer medical staff
Several times a year, RAM sets up its remote clinic in places like Knott County, Kentucky for a weekend. Known for its rolling hills, this is coal mining country. Many residents work low wage jobs and cannot afford to see a doctor.
|Residents line up early for medical attention|
RAM depends entirely on volunteers. On this weekend, six eye specialists, 24 dentists and an assortment of other physicians and volunteers will treat almost 1,000 patients.
At 4 a.m. Saturday, the parking lot was already bustling with activity. Danny Sloan and his family had been waiting all night. "I am looking for eye glasses and a cancer screen," Sloan explained.
RAM serve Americans in rural communities
In the U.S., government provided health care is more easily available to children, than adults. Most of the people here have jobs, but still can not afford health care.
James Francis, is unemployed. RAM is his only chance to see a doctor. "I was telling my girlfriend, I said, I need to get up about four o'clock and get up there," Francis said. "And then when I got here at five, I was already number 82. So that shows how important this was."
Nearly 46 million people are uninsured in the U.S. but Brock says he sees many who have insurance. Their most common need is for dental and eye care. "They have insurance and it either has a very high copay, and so they can't afford the copay, or it doesn't cover those two essential services," Brock stated.
Later in the evening, Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo, a physician, stopped by to talk with some of the volunteers. The topic quickly turned to why so many people in the U.S. have no access to health care. "The health care system is broken," Mongiardo explained. "It doesn't matter who pays for this inefficient very expensive system. The problem is the system cost too much for anybody to afford."
|Dr. Daniel Mongiardo|
After hours of standing in line, after all the poking and prodding, Patients like Sandy Ekridge leave with more than just fixed teeth. "Teeth and glasses," she said.
Remote Area Medical plans more expeditions in the U.S. as well as to Africa and South America.