News / Health

Hundreds Line Up for Free Health Care in Tennessee

Medical charity brings doctors, dentists where they're needed

At a recent RAM free clinic in Knoxville, Tenn., more than 50 dental chairs were full.
At a recent RAM free clinic in Knoxville, Tenn., more than 50 dental chairs were full.

Multimedia

Audio
Mike Osborne

The Congressional debate over health care reform appears to be over for the moment but, for many Americans, it is still an all-consuming concern.

Perhaps nowhere was that more apparent than at a Knoxville, Tennessee, community center on a recent cold, wet Saturday morning. That's where a medical charity called Remote Area Medical (RAM) was running a free clinic.

A day of care starts before sunrise

The health care event wasn't scheduled to start until 6 a.m. But when RAM volunteers arrived at 3 a.m., they found hundreds of people already waiting in line. Many had slept in the parking lot overnight, desperate to see the charity's dentists and doctors.

RAM volunteers soon had everyone out of the cold and damp. Blood pressure and other vitals were quickly taken along with a brief medical history, and then the doctors, who volunteer their time, did an initial health screening.

Most of these people have jobs and many have health insurance, but their plans don't pay for extras like dental and vision care.



RAM has more than 50 dental chairs set up and all are soon full. Volunteer dentist Danny Chacko says the poor, whether working or not, simply can't afford to pay for expensive procedures like having a tooth pulled.

RAM's dentists and doctors volunteer their time at the free clinics.
RAM's dentists and doctors volunteer their time at the free clinics.

"An extraction in most offices runs anywhere from $100 to $150. So if you have five teeth taken out, that's $500. And who's got $500 in a year's time, let alone a month's time?"

Knoxville resident Kristi Luethke is a perfect example. Her teeth are in poor shape and most of the front ones are gone altogether. "It's embarrassing," she says."It's put me in depression. I've always been told throughout my life that I had a beautiful smile. So that's all I'm lookin' to gain back, is to be able to look somebody face-to-face and show my smile."

After struggling to find dental care for years, she's chosen a drastic solution. She's going to have all her teeth removed and replace them with dentures. She's getting married in April and hopes to have her new smile in time for the wedding.

In a dark corner at the far end of the community center, eye specialists are performing various vision tests. Ophthalmologist Paul Wittke says the RAM clinic can grind out more than 300 pairs of new prescription eye glasses a day.

"That's our biggest thing I think. We help a lot of people out with their glasses," says Wittke. "Being able to see again, you know, have a job and hold a job, which they can't do right now because they can't see well enough. It's a big help for our patients."

Bringing doctors to patients

British adventurer Stan Brock was working as a cowboy in a remote part of the upper Amazon when he recognized the need to provide health care in the world's poorest, most isolated communities.

"I got badly injured by a wild horse," he recalls, "and one of the other cowboys said, 'Well, the nearest doctor is 26 days on foot from here.' It was about that time that I had that inspiration maybe we ought to bring those doctors just a little bit closer."

Many of the people at the free clinic have health insurance through their jobs but the plans don't pay for extras like dental and vision care.
Many of the people at the free clinic have health insurance through their jobs but the plans don't pay for extras like dental and vision care.

That's what he's been doing since he created RAM in 1985, sponsoring hundreds of health care expeditions all over the world.

RAM opened a U.S. office more than a decade ago, initially just to raise funds for its overseas efforts. But one day Brock got a call from officials in a nearby county in Tennessee, where the only hospital had just closed. They asked if RAM could do anything to help. Brock loaded a couple of dental chairs into the back of a pickup truck, rounded up some volunteer doctors and went to see what could be done.

"After that we got a call from the county next door, and next door to that, and pretty soon we were doing it every week." The Knoxville clinic is RAM's 590th health care mission.

The challenge: finding enough doctors

Doctors in the U.S. cannot practice medicine outside the states where they're licensed.

But several out-of-state doctors volunteered here in Knoxville. Several years ago, the Tennessee legislature passed a law, at RAM's urging, that provides a temporary medical dispensation. Doctors traveling to the state to provide charity care are welcome to do so.

Brock notes it's the only law of its kind in the United States. He thinks it should be replicated throughout the country. "Unfortunately it's not, so it makes it very difficult when we go to other states, to be able to come up with enough volunteers to meet the kind of need you see here."

Hundreds show up for a chance to see a doctor or dentist at Remote Area Medical's (RAM) free clinics.
Hundreds show up for a chance to see a doctor or dentist at Remote Area Medical's (RAM) free clinics.

Dentist Danny Chacko has lost count of the number of RAM expeditions he's volunteered for but he puts the number at around 70 or 80. He has no intention of stopping anytime soon and encourages others to volunteer as well. "Let's not forget the people that need this kind of care. Because the people that need this care…that could just as easily be one of us sitting in that chair."

Although it began its expeditions in South America, today, most of RAM's clinics are held in rural communities in the United States.

But its international work continues. It operates an air ambulance in Guyana and has run training programs for community-based animal healthcare workers in Guyana and Kenya. After the earthquake in Haiti, RAM began sending teams of nurses, pharmacists and X-ray technicians to Port-au-Prince to help relief efforts there.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs