Remote Area Medical
The free mobile medical clinics filling in the gaps of the US healthcare system
An estimated 28.2 million people in the United States are not covered by health insurance. For those who are covered, many are underinsured, without vision or dental coverage, and many avoid seeking medical treatment because of high deductibles and co-pays (additional fixed payments) under their insurance plans. This means millions of Americans suffer in pain from ongoing health problems or allow health issues to escalate because they cannot afford to seek treatment.
Remote Area Medical (RAM) was created in 1985 as a charity to deliver healthcare to the needy in Guyana, South America. However, it now functions predominantly to provide mobile medical clinics delivering free dental, vision, and medical care to those unable to afford it, though they live in one of the richest countries in the world, the United States. In less than 12 hours, RAM can turn a stadium, school, or arena into a fully functional medical clinic, able to provide dental, vision, and general medical care to thousands. Families are so desperate for this care that they are frequently found sleeping in their cars up to 48 hours in advance to ensure a space in the queue for treatment. All of RAM’s treatment providers are licensed dental, vision, and medical professionals who volunteer their time to care for patients in need.
Heather Wallace and her husband, James, are both in their 20s. In early June, they travelled the two hours from Knoxville, Tennessee, to a free RAM clinic in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They joined over 100 people who camped out in their cars overnight so they could get treated early in the morning. James earns about $9 per hour working in hotels, and Heather earns a little less. Their jobs barely pay enough to cover food, James said, and they don’t come with health insurance or other benefits like dental care. It was because of Heather’s toothache that they had travelled to the clinic. "Basically it's just like a nerve pain. Your whole body locks up; you have to stop for a second to try to breathe," she said. "And sometimes if it hurts bad enough, you might cry."
RAM is filling the gaps in America’s healthcare system by providing humanitarian heroes to people in need. Their treatment can dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life, providing thousands of pairs of prescription eyeglasses and much needed dental care. They also undoubtedly save lives through their work in detecting and diagnosing serious illnesses. Unfortunately, as long as the US continues to deny millions of their citizens access to healthcare, voluntary organisations like RAM must continue to exist.