RAM Lands In Los Angeles

August 15th, 200910:08 am @ Angela Odom



The promise of free health care attracted thousands to the Los Angeles Forum in Inglewood, Calif., for the second day in a row Wednesday. Three rows reserved for dental care were part of the menu of services offered by Remote Area Medical, which planned to run the event for eight days. Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

I wanted to trek on down to the Forum this week but, knowing it was chemo week for me, I chose not to go since I did not know what to expect from my body and what my body might experience while there. From what I’ve heard, thousands of people showed up a the Forum in spite of there being little to no information — or very little media attention focused — on the groups planned arrival.

From various news reports, hundreds began lining up Monday for a chance to see dentists, have their teeth fixed, receive pap smears, acupuncture, eyes examined, receive glasses, and various other maladies cared for at the clinic. Unfortunately, hundreds more were turned away as armbands were given out until they reached their maximum of 8,000 people.

On Tuesday, procedures included 95 tooth extractions, 22 oral surgeries, 470 fillings, prescriptions for 140 eyeglasses, 45 mammograms, 43 HIV tests and 96 Pap smears.

Remote Area Medical, a Tennessee-based organization, decided to try its hand at large urban medical services thinking Los Angeles would be a good place to start. Needless to say, the group was overwhelmed on the first day after admitting 1500 people through the door.  This event marks the first time in RAM’s 25 years that it has gone to a major U.S. metropolitan area.  The response, I’m sure is reflective of California’s recent high unemployment, reduction in its Medicaid services for the poor, and high deductibles and co-payments for many employer-sponsored insurance programs.  With recent budget cuts affecting healthcare services in the state, clinics like RAM will see an uptick in clients in search of free or low-cost services but it will be nothing like what RAM is offering.

PrescGlassesFor instance, last month California dropped its dental and vision coverage for MediCal enrollees and has since capped enrollment in the state’s health insurance program for children of the working poor. Thousands of people across the state lost their coverage in the middle of complex, multimonth procedures and have found themselves at a loss

Sammie Edwards, a retired welder who was at the Forum seeking care, was in the middle of getting dentures made when his care ran out, he said. A friend at a food bank clued him into the free clinic. “A lot of older people are caught in the midst of this,” Mr. Edwards said.

Though RAM is filling a need there have been some pitfalls.  RAM founder, Stan Brock said this trip has been frustrating because there just aren’t enough volunteers to help all the people who need it, because of California state law.  “We tried to get a waiver to bring in good ol’ East Tennessee boys and girls to fix teeth, do eyes, but unfortunately, except in Tennessee, the rest of the country won’t allow practitoners of medicine from one state to cross over and help in another state,” said Brock.

“We’re shorthanded,” said Brock.  About 100 dentists were needed, but only about 30 showed up Tuesday. Twenty eye doctors were required, but only about five were on hand, Brock said.

The organization continues to put out calls for volunteers, including oral surgeons, dental and optical technicians.

Volunteers are asked to bring a valid medical or dental license, but all supplies are provided. Nonmedical volunteers are also need, according to the organization’s Twitter feed (@RAMLosAngeles), including those who simply stand in line as placeholders for patients waiting for multiple services.

What I like about Brock is his simple life.  He is not living high on some well-fed hog.  Brock has “no money, no income, and no bank account. He spends 365 days a year at the charity events, sleeping on a small rolled-up mat on the floor and living on a diet made up entirely of porridge and fresh fruit. In some quarters, he has been described, without too much exaggeration, as a living saint.” I admire and applaud him. 

RAM will be in Los Angeles though Tuesday the 18th, but I fear and have heard if you have not already received an armband you will not be able to get in.