Being the Hands and Feet: Remote Area Medical Offers Hope
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities.
More than 34 years ago, naturalist and adventurer Stan Brock found himself with a serious injury, deep in the jungles of Guyana, South America, with medical care a 26-day journey away.
He knew there had to be a way to make healthcare more accessible to the Indians of that area and other remote places around the globe. Little did Brock know at the time, that his vision would grow into something much larger.
Dream Becomes Reality
- Remote Area Medical (RAM), established in 1985, is the culmination of that dream – one man’s vision to get involved and help others. A roving caravan of sorts, RAM events offer medical, dental, vision, women’s health (including mammograms where available), hearing and counseling – all free of charge to the patients. They travel from near and far to RAM events, show up in the middle of the night and line up in time to get a ticket.
RAM holds events all over the US and in many other locations around the globe doling out healthcare to anyone who shows up and signs up. There are no insurance companies to deal with – anyone can get help. It may be surprising to know that the majority of RAM’s work is in the U.S.
Brock, who was also former cast member of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”, passed away in 2018 at the age of 82. His presence at RAM events is surely missed by all those who came to know him over the past 34 years. A tribute page, including a video of his memorial service, is included on RAM’s website, ramusa.org.
“We will continue the mission of preventing pain and alleviating suffering.” Robert Lambert, RAM media relations spokesman, reflected on their ongoing work to honor Brock’s legacy.
He left the organization in the capable hands of those who worked alongside him. The mission continues from the RAM headquarters in Rockford, TN, a suburb of Knoxville. The 12-member board of directors, 34 staff and the thousands of volunteers and donors are carrying on Brock’s goal of filling healthcare gaps.
“We’re always looking to expand the services offered with the mobile medical clinics,” he added. He said their immediate need is to acquire ultrasound machines.
Volunteers Are Crucial to the Mission
Throughout the year, RAM travels to remote mountain towns and some byways that are closer in (yes, even near urban communities) to offer help and hope to those who cannot afford healthcare or simply don’t have access to providers.
Volunteers help make it all possible. Physicians, dentists, optometrists, nurses and other community people leave their daily work behind to travel to RAM expeditions and lend their time to provide care.
Non-medical volunteers help direct people to the different clinic areas, transport patients, dole out snacks to patients and volunteers, work in food prep and fill many other roles.
Lambert said that 17,000 volunteers helped at RAM events last year. To volunteer, simply visit RAMUSAand fill out an application
Dr. John Culp, a faculty physician at ETSU (East TN State University) Family Physicians of Bristol, has volunteered at many RAM events over the years.
He said there is a special bond among those who are involved in the RAM events year after year.
“There is a close camaraderie among RAM volunteers! It is like a homecoming, a family gathering, to reunite with friends from previous expeditions and to make new friends among the volunteers who come every year.” Culp commented.
“They are some of the nicest people you will encounter anywhere! It is wonderful experience for medical students to see people who really need medical help, to learn from community volunteer physicians, and to gain direct experience in the field. It is rewarding to help provide care for the people who have a real need for help. And ‘Whatever you do for the least of these, you have done for me.’”
Culp said he has enjoyed getting to know the people at RAM events, initially where he started out, in Wise, VA and also in Gray.
“I went to the Wise RAM with medical students a couple of times in the mid-2000s.” He recently reflected on earlier days when he first learned of RAM – only missing a couple of years at that location in all his years of volunteering.
“Since then I’ve returned annually to the Wise RAM, serving in a similar capacity with the same clinic group. The Red Team on which I serve is one of three teams in the General Medicine Clinic that provides basic general care to RAM patients, who present with a wide variety of problems.”
Many patients don’t have primary care doctors, he said. Those who do, many times can’t afford to see their regular physicians or don’t have transportation.
Still others are referred to RAM by their doctors to get free tests done that aren’t readily available or are cost prohibitive.
“At the Wise RAM we are fortunate to have many specialties represented with their own clinics set up in tents around the fairgrounds building in which the General Medicine Clinic is located.” Culp said.
Variety of Services Offered
The dental area at RAM events often is the busiest. Oral care is one expense that often falls by the wayside for a lot of people – but has the potential to cause even further health issues if not treated.
“The really big draw for patients to attend RAM is dental care, which is sorely lacking for the less fortunate people in our
“Many also come for eye care. We pick up a good many of those people who decide to come get a general medical checkup or follow up on some of their problems while they have down time waiting on their dental or vision care.”
Communities Helping Advance the Mission
Community organizers help secure space for the RAM, recruit community organizations to help provide other necessities at the event and advertise to get the word out far and wide.
Carolyn Sliger, Rural Programs coordinator at ETSU Quillen College of Medicine (Johnson City), is instrumental in coordinating the upper East TN RAM event that was held the first two years at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Since then it has moved to the Gray, TN fairgrounds area – Sliger and the organizing committee realized they could sponsor the event for less money and have buildings with heat and air to use for all of the patient areas. The next event at Gray is planned for November 1-3 this year.
“I love giving back and helping the community.” She discussed the reason she and others at ETSU became involved with RAM. The university has been a force supporting RAM in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia by sending supplies, students, faculty and staff over the past 20+ years.
As a certified phlebotomist, she also runs the event’s blood lab and teaches medical students how to draw blood. It’s a learning environment and benevolent clinic all in one.
Her efforts have paid off in seeing health services provided to hundreds in the surrounding East TN area. That event also provides canned food and fresh vegetables through Second Harvest Food Bank, due to her efforts.
“I like helping people who have food insecurities,” she said, reflecting on her passion to help feed the hungry.
Every Dollar Counts
A successful RAM event also requires funding to operate. Monetary donations are always needed and appreciated, as well.
Lambert assured that every dollar donated is put to good use. “For $90 spent on each patient, they receive $320 worth of care.” He said. “We can take a dollar and multiply it.”
Involvement Comes in Many Ways
If you can’t volunteer or donate, he suggested telling friends, church groups and civic groups about RAM. Staff members are available to speak at community events – for more information, contact the RAM headquarters here.