The Health Wagon’s Teresa Gardner and an army of volunteers have been busy preparing for this year’s RAM event. Stephen Igo photo.
WISE — Around 1,400 volunteers will begin to swell the ranks at the Wise County Fairgrounds today as final preparations proceed toward Friday’s start of the 14th Remote Area Medical Health Expedition in Wise County.
All this week the advance troops of those volunteer ranks have been preparing the fairgrounds for the thousands of people expected to fill the site seeking free medical, dental and vision care services, the largest such event in the nation.
Stan Brock, the founder of the Knoxville-based RAM organization, is expected to fly the group’s classic C-47 into Lonesome Pine Airport early today. Meanwhile, The Health Wagon’s Teresa Gardner and her loyal band of volunteers have been preparing for this year’s event pretty much ever since the conclusion of last year’s Wise County RAM.
The Health Wagon induced Brock to stage one of his worldwide RAM expeditions in Wise County beginning in 2000, and the event attracted so many people in need of health care services it quickly outgrew the original staging grounds at the airport, located not far from the fairgrounds.
Last year, nearly 1,400 volunteers, around 900 of them health professionals, delivered a broad range of free medical, dental and vision services to 2,442 patients during the three-day event. There were 8,309 procedures performed during those three days accounting for an estimated $1.95 million worth of free services.
Those services last year included the categories of 713 medical, 994 vision, 1,306 dental, 386 women’s health and 127 mammograms, not to mention 929 pairs of eyeglasses made on site.
Since 2000, Wise County’s RAM has provided 1,794 mammograms, 36,855 general medical procedures, 10,058 eye exams with eyeglasses, and 15,263 adult dentistry procedures along with 1,178 dental procedures for children.
All that since 2000, an astonishing three-day health care spree over each of those 13 years that have served a grand total 68,701 patients and accounted for 42,737 tooth extractions. Three more days are set to go Friday through Sunday, and Gardner said she doesn’t expect Obamacare to dent the need in future years.
“Here in Southwest Virginia, we are a designated underserved health care area. There is still not enough providers, and honestly, I don’t know what to expect from (Obamacare) yet when it comes to addressing the many access needs here and across the country,” she said.
“I believe I’ll keep doing this (RAM) ’til the day I die. The (Obamacare program) might ease some of the burden — we’ll see — but I think we will always have a need for this.”
Meanwhile, the local volunteers that are the backbone of RAM’s success in Wise County are so loyal and experienced at staging the event every year, it’s all old hat for most. Gardner made special mention of Mike Waddell, Judy Miller and Rick Colley for this week’s final prep work at the fairgrounds.
Colley, the executive director of the Wise County/city of Norton Chamber of Commerce, has volunteered at RAM since the very first one in 2000, as have most other local volunteers for that matter.
“It takes a lot of pre-work and post-work to make this work,” he said. “There’s not only the set up and take down, but we’ll be here during the event in case anything needs to be done.”
Fifteen students from Chicago were also on hand this week to help set up the fairgrounds, Gardner said, one as young as 15. Wise County Litter Control also provided muscle power during the week in the form of area inmates. On Wednesday, one of the Litter Control crews manned weed eaters to manicure the grounds.
Patient registration for the three-day event beginning Friday starts at 6 a.m. each day. Patients are served on a first-come, first-served basis, with the exception of some selected appointments like dentures.
All patients must bring all their prescription medications and information. Bagged lunches and water will be provided. Folks are also encouraged to bring sunscreen and an umbrella. RAM is a smoke free event, and no pets — only service animals — are permitted.