Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at the Wise County RAM event on Friday. Photo by Stephen Igo.
WISE — Umbrellas and ponchos were in nearly as much demand as health care services on Friday as the Wise County Remote Area Medical (RAM) Health Expedition launched its 15th rendition of the annual summertime event at the Wise County Fairgrounds.
Free medical, dental and vision services are offered through Sunday, and rain showers are predicted throughout. Things were soggy yet proceeding swimmingly on Friday as organizers have the annual Wise County RAM down to a science, rain or shine.
"Many of our volunteers have done this so many times now, they have everything running well. We've not had too many problems. You always expect a few problems to crop up here and there and you never know what they will be from moment to moment but, other than the rain, it's going really smooth," said Southwest Virginia Health Wagon Executive Director Teresa Gardner.
"But everybody seems to be taking the rain in stride. There's not too many people around here afraid of getting a little wet."
As usual the biggest patient crunch at Wise County RAM is opening day. Gardner encourages all comers to take advantage of the free services Saturday and Sunday, particularly for medical needs, a category that has much shorter lines than dental or vision services.
A small army of folks seeking RAM health services, provided by between 800 and 1,000 volunteer health care professionals and that many or more general support volunteers, pretty much filled all dental and vision slots Thursday, Gardner said. It is typical for people to show up at least a day early for the Wise County RAM to secure processing numbers and even camp out at the fairgrounds.
Gardner said 1,600 tickets were handed out by 4 p.m. Thursday, pretty much a maximum daily patient load limit for the Wise County RAM, particularly in the dental and vision care categories. Slots for medical needs only can take people in without much of a wait on any of the three days, she added.
"Our eye and dental maxed out quick yesterday," Gardner said.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe plugged his ongoing campaign to expand the Medicaid rolls in Virginia during his visit to Wise County RAM on Friday.
"Sad is an understatement," he told Gardner of citizens without the financial means, either by insurance or public assistance, to access health care. He told another RAM volunteer Medicaid expansion "shouldn't be about politics. Health care is a basic human right," and yet another that he is "working hard to close the coverage gap."
The governor and the Virginia General Assembly, particularly the House of Delegates, have been at loggerheads over the Medicaid expansion issue. Another showdown may be looming in September.
Volunteers, meanwhile, kept right on delivering medical, dental and vision services while the governor and his entourage swirled through the splashy fairgrounds. Virginia Commonwealth University dentist McKay Packer devoured a banana during a quick break while Casey Vinett of Becky's Place, a Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation chapter, took shelter under a canvas canopy while soaking up — rain and otherwise — her first RAM experience.
"It's almost overwhelming to see the amount of need, but it's also overwhelming to see the number of people here in response to that need," Vinett, of Williamsburg, said. "It's so awesome of people to give of themselves and in resources in this way."
Gates open at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Gardner said Saturday and Sunday are typically the best days to seek services after the opening day crunch passes.
"Every year it seems everybody tries to get in on the first day. But Saturday and Sunday are really good days to come, especially for medical," she said.