Patients wait their turn to be seen at the Wise County RAM event Friday. Stephen Igo photo.
WISE — Under steamy skies heavy with the potential for thunderstorms, the 14th annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) Health Expedition got under way Friday at the Wise County Fairgrounds.
As is the norm for Wise County’s RAM, the number of people seeking free medical, dental and vision health care services maxed out the daily serving capacity. More than 1,400 were admitted for care with many others supplied entry numbers for Saturday. The event runs through Sunday.
Health Wagon Executive Director Teresa Gardner said the opening day crush, while typical, leads into a tip for health care seekers: There is usually a better opportunity to get entry into the fairgrounds and treatment on Saturday.
Of course, showing up on Friday to get an entry number for Saturday is good, too.
“We processed 1,400 early this morning so we started giving out numbers for Saturday. Actually, Saturday is a good day to come. In the past we’ve started looking for patients for eye and dental on Saturday, believe it or not,” she said.
Meanwhile, 14 years of RAM experience pays off for the volunteers at Wise County’s three-day event. It takes a lot of work, particularly in the planning long before the summertime event occurs each year, but things run like clockwork anymore.
“Things have been working really, really efficient for our opening day. It’s gone very, very well for years now. Really it’s kind of a miracle things go so smooth,” Gardner said. “But that’s a credit to so much of the work that happens for months before it happens, planning the logistics and so forth. And, we have so many die-hard RAM groupies, I guess you could say, to thank for making things go so smooth.”
More than 1,500 volunteers operate Wise County’s RAM. In addition to the health care professionals from across Virginia and other states who volunteer their time and expertise, numbering close to 1,000, there are hundreds of other volunteers escorting patients, preparing and disbursing bagged lunches and water, and doing dozens of other chores that need doing when upwards of 3,000 swarm into the fairgrounds.
Sheila Barner, a registered nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, is volunteering her first time at Wise County’s RAM this year. She is impressed.
“This is such a great idea, and sad they need it,” she said. “We’ve registered 1,400 people already and it’s still morning on Friday, and that’s extraordinary. I saw my first person at 5:45 a.m. and they keep coming, keep coming.”
Barner said being “from a bigger city like Richmond, we just have more free clinics out there. Areas like this, there’s not a lot of places people can go.” Being a first-time volunteer won’t be her last, she added.
“We’ll be back next year for sure. The folks here are just so grateful and” — with one hand she formed a barely separated thumb and forefinger — “we’re doing just this much.”
Kenneth Bloomer of Norton awaited some of that “just so much” dental treatment, and it means a great deal to him. Bloomer first sought free health care from Wise County’s RAM two years ago and recognized the benefit then.
“This is all right. It’s good because, otherwise, I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “I got my number on Thursday and got back up here at 4 (a.m.). What I like best about it is how they treat you good. Real good.”
Of the 1,500 volunteers, definitely the youngest only celebrated his second birthday a few months ago. Miles Wampler’s ‘papaw,’ Lacy Mullins of the Hurricane section of Wise, is a RAM volunteer and this year Mullins brought along his pint-sized sidekick. The pair wore nearly identical cowboy hats and ready grins.
“Me ’n’ him,” said Mullins of the duo’s next volunteer mission, “we’re just gonna pass out water to some folks here in a bit, ain’t we buddy?”
Last year Wise County’s RAM provided over $1.95 million worth of free medical, dental and vision services. Since 2000, when the first event was held, RAM has served 68,701 patients. The previous 13 years also accounted for 42,727.
Patient registration begins at 6 a.m. All patients should bring all prescription medications and/or information. Bagged lunches and water are provided. Everyone is encouraged to bring sunscreen and an umbrella.