WISE — In stifling heat and humidity, some people slept in their cars, many having arrived a day before the gates opened, hoping to get the medical, dental and vision help they needed.
It was time Friday morning for thousands of people to descend on a cluster of buildings and fields off Wise’s Hurricane Road.
For those who couldn’t afford to visit a doctor or dentist or have their eyes checked, the payment was to wait in long lines under a hot sun, using a paper fan to keep cool.
For the 18th year, Remote Area Medical Expedition came to the Wise County fairgrounds. Once again, the largest free medical clinic in the country drew a record number of people seeking help, according to Paula Hill with The Health Wagon.
RAM draws people in from many surrounding states along with people from Clintwood, Wise, Pound, Appalachia and other local communities. This year, RAM provided services to more than 2,100 people, including nearly 900 pairs of glasses, Hill said.
“I come every year; I don’t have dental insurance,” said Robin Hollyfield, of Pound. “It’s a blessing.” Dental and vision services continue to be the most requested areas of care.
“He said it wasn’t life-threating . . . and I haven’t died yet,” said Joshua Mullins of Clintwood talking about a knot in his abdomen. Mullins was also getting his thyroid and other things checked, he said. Mullins was also referred for further medical care.
Tiffany Parker from Wise attended to get a checkup and dental work/cleaning. “It is a great thing they’re doing. It saves a lot of lives,” said Parker, who was attending her first RAM event.
“It’s been pretty good, long waits, it’s hot but its worth it,” said Melissa McFarland, from Appalachia. McFarland, who is unable to work and was recently diagnosed with lupus, was checked for glaucoma and needed to get new glasses.
In addition to drawing people seeking services from all over, RAM draws volunteers from throughout Virginia and beyond. “It is very humbling and a little overwhelming,” said Radford University nursing student Rebecca Hall. “I don’t think we realized how many people need these kind of services.”
Hall, from Riner, Va., had never been to Wise before.
Dentist John Harris III, from Roanoke, said, “We need to give back to our patients that can’t afford to have things done . . . All professions should do this.” This sentiment was shared by many of the volunteers.
Many volunteers were local, including Coeburn resident and Mountain Empire Community College student Hannah Hughes. According to Hughes, RAM is a “really good learning experience.” Hughes hopes to complete MECC’s licensed practical nursing program in December.
Optometrist Linda Pinsky, from Richmond, said, “it feels good to help people who need the care.”
Once again RAM showed how many people need the care.
The next RAM event in the region will be at Lee High School in Pennington Gap, Sept. 23-24. Following that, there will be a RAM event at Riverview Elementary/Middle School in Grundy, Oct. 7-8. For more information visit www.ramusa.org/virginia.
To donate or volunteer at a RAM event, contact RAM USA or The Health Wagon at http://thehealthwagon.org/.