Volunteers prepare the dental services area for RAM clients Thursday. Stephen Igo photo.
WISE — The 14th Remote Area Medical (RAM) Health Expedition gets under way at the crack of dawn Friday with more than 1,500 volunteers prepared to deal with well over 2,000 people seeking free medical, dental and vision care services through Sunday.
The three-day event is the largest in the nation, both in patients served and volunteers, for Knoxville-based RAM, an outfit that brings health care professionals together with people needing care worldwide.
RAM representative Jean Jolly has helped coordinate the Wise County event since RAM first arrived in 2000. She said she, RAM founder Stan Brock and Teresa Gardner, executive director of Southwest Virginia’s Health Wagon, “are sort of co-partners” organizing the Wise County event each year.
On Thursday at a bustling Wise County Fairgrounds, where RAM is held each summer, Jolly was asked if everything was ready for the weekend onslaught.
“Well, no, we’re not ready yet,” she said. “But we will be. Just give us another five hours.”
The Health Wagon induced Brock to stage one of his RAM events in Wise County back in 2000, and it has grown to be his largest in the United States. On Thursday Gardner said 14 years worth of experience has made staging the event an easier and smoother proposition than in the earliest years.
“Everything is going really good so far. We have well over 1,500 volunteers. We did a lot of our setup early in the week. We’ve learned to be smarter about that, and we’re expecting another successful event,” she said.
“We’re just putting out little bitty fires at this point, getting ready for the big start (on Friday) and through the weekend.”
Terry Dickinson, the honcho of the Virginia Dental Association and self-described “trail boss” of dental staff at the Wise County RAM, has volunteered at all 13 prior events and starting Friday will make it 14.
“The need never goes away,” he said. “I’ve been a part of 62 projects and I’ve seen this one grow tremendously. It’s interesting to bring a diverse group together and watch them work so well together. It’s great. It says so much about these local communities, to have people willing to come together to help those who struggle in life.”
Dickinson said dental students also learn a great deal by volunteering at Wise County’s RAM each year.
“It’s good for them to find out there are people who live differently than they do, to learn there are people who do struggle in life and can be helped if only we will,” he said. “And that’s part of our responsibility as a profession, is to give something back.”
Fred Bevins of Wise is one of the many local volunteers. Not a health professional, like many others Bevins does what he can to help things run as smoothly as possible. This is Bevins’ eighth year as a volunteer, this year as a patient escort.
“Oh, it’s been a blessing. We’re helping others but it’s just a wonderful blessing for me personally to do what I can to help out,” he said. “The doctors and the dentists, all the nurses and all the health professionals volunteer their time and give their expertise, and that’s just remarkable. So what little I can do, I do. And I pray I can do it for a number of other years, too.”
Patient registration begins at 6 a.m. daily through the weekend on a first-come, first-served basis. All patients should bring all their prescription medications and information. Bagged lunches and water will be provided. Everyone is encouraged to bring sunscreen and an umbrella.