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Editorial: RAM clinic founders are heroes to the region

Editorial Board • Jul 30, 2018 at 1:30 PM

It was the unmet medical needs of Southwest Virginia residents that brought together an Englishman who once managed the world’s largest cattle ranch in British Guiana and a nun who for 20 years had been driving around the area dispensing health care from a Volkswagen Beetle.

The result of that collaboration is the largest annual medical forum in the nation, which continues because the need is still there.

But without Stan Brock, actor, author and philanthropist, and Sister Bernadette Kinney of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, it would never have happened, and thousands of needy residents of Lee, Wise, Scott and other Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee counties would never have received millions of dollars of free medical help for nearly two decades.

Brock, who in 1968 began co-hosting NBC’s Emmy-winning series “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” with Marlin Perkins, founded the nonprofit organization Remote Area Medical (RAM) in 1985, vowing to bring medical care closer to the people who needed it and at a price they could afford: free. Thanks to RAM’s 120,000 volunteers, it has served some 1 million men, women and children around the world with about $120 million in free medical care.

Brock lives in Rockford, Tenn., near the Old Knoxville Highway where the 55,000-square-foot campus of RAM is located. He was instrumental in the passage of the Tennessee Volunteer Medical Services Act of 1995, which allows health professionals with out-of-state licenses to cross state lines and provide free care.

In 1978, at the request of the Richmond Catholic Diocese, the Medical Missionaries established a service in Appalachia based at Clinchco and dispatched Sister Bernie Kinney to staff it. Two years later, Sister Bernie founded The Health Wagon to meet the unique challenges of providing health care to underserved and indigent residents of poverty-stricken areas of rural Appalachia.

In 1998, Brock and Sister Bernie met in Mountain City and planned to bring RAM to Southwest Virginia the next year. Later, the Virginia Dental Association’s Missions of Mercy joined the effort and forged a partnership that has built Wise County RAM into a nationally, even internationally, known event.

As in previous years, this year’s recent event provided a dental clinic to deliver free dental care to all comers on the campus of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, while Wise County RAM offered a broad range of medical and vision health services at the Wise County fairgrounds. They served thousands of needy residents as they have for two decades, folks who simply could not afford to have a physical checkup or to have a cavity filled.

But it all began with two people, who are heroes to this region, who continue to set an example for giving back and for helping those in need.

At some point, their immense contributions to this area should be recognized in a more lasting way.

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