Knoxville-based Remote Area Medical (RAM) Health Expedition, founded by Stan Brock of “Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom” TV series of yesteryear, has been the major player behind Wise County RAM — partnered with the region's Health Wagon — that quickly evolved into the nation's largest such event.
Another major player to the past success of Wise County RAM is the Virginia Dental Association Foundation's Missions of Mercy (M.O.M.), founded in 2000 by VDAF Executive Director Terry Dickinson of Richmond. Over the previous 18 years, the Health Wagon, Brock's RAM and VDAF's M.O.M. forged a powerful partnership to build Wise County RAM into a nationally, even internationally, known event.
This year, the 19th annual Wise County RAM is split, howbeit by a distance of just 3 miles or so as the crow flies, as M.O.M. stages its own 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 continues to hold court at the county fairgrounds, including free dental care along with a broad range of medical and vision health services.
While now separate events, RAM and M.O.M. still share a strong bond and common goals, Dickinson said Thursday, and links like public transportation will be available between the two sites to enable patients to seek services at either or both sites during the next three days.
"We were 18 years at the fairgrounds. We just thought it best to move over here. With the heat and the rain and less than ideal circumstances to provide dental services that is the case at the fairgrounds, the (UVa-Wise Convocation Center) is simply a much better environment to do our services," Dickinson said.
The college "was gracious" to make the Convocation Center available, he added, a facility he said is best suited to provide dental health services "in the best possible manner." He acknowledged Brock wasn't pleased about M.O.M.'s relocation to the college this year but hopes Brock is accepting of an olive branch.
"Obviously, there is some talk going around in confusion, with good cause" about a split between M.O.M. and RAM., Dickinson said. Brock's RAM outfit has long provided all others with a model to replicate when it comes to such ambitious endeavors — including M.O.M. — Dickinson said, and there is nothing that can take away from that.
"I like and admire Stan. He does something with his life very few people do," Dickinson said. "To commit your life to a life of service, I admire that. The gifts (Brock) has given around the world, well, he is just an amazing person to dedicate his life to serving others, and that won't change."
Like Wise County RAM, registration for the M.O.M. clinic at UVa-Wise through Sunday begins at 6 a.m. daily. Unlike the fairgrounds, the college does not allow overnight camping and/or parking or sleeping in cars on campus, and patients choosing M.O.M. dental services as opposed to those at the fairgrounds need to be aware of that stipulation.
Dickinson said 80 to 90 dental teams — a total of about 500 M.O.M. volunteers — will provide services at the UVa-Wise Convocation Center through Sunday. He said a maximum of 200 early show patients on Thursday were undergoing "what we call triage," or assessed for dental needs, and they will be the first to be treated on Friday.
Wise County RAM, meanwhile, will also provide free dental services as usual during the 19th annual event at the fairgrounds, howbeit perhaps not on the scale available as in past years when VDAF's M.O.M. operations were at that site.