But in the end, helping the community is worth it.
RAM’s second year occupying the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray drew hundreds of people from the community who might not otherwise receive healthcare. Some camped out overnight to get a ticket for the clinic to receive general medical exams, dental cleanings, tooth extractions, eye exams and myriad other health care services.
RAM Media Relations Specialist Robert Lambert said dental care usually draws in the biggest crowd, showing a big need for oral care in the community.
“(Dental) is very, very expensive,” Lambert said. “One root canal could be $1,000, a tooth extraction could be $250. That’s a lot of money to a lot of people, and a lot of jobs don’t offer dental insurance.
“Oftentimes you can go to a free clinic to get medical care, you can go to the emergency room if you really need medical care, but you can’t go to the emergency room to get a tooth pulled or get a pair of glasses, so that’s why people come to RAM.”
Tennessee is one of the 12 states that allows medical care professionals to cross state lines to volunteer for the clinic, so volunteers from the University at Buffalo in New York added to the volunteers from the community providing care for the weekend.
Volunteers from the community and surrounding areas, including East Tennessee State University and University of Tennessee dental hygiene students, spent a long day providing dental crowns, tooth extractions and general tooth cleanings. Kristen Ford, an adjunct professor at ETSU’s dental hygiene program, said this is her second year volunteering for the clinic.
While she expected to work almost 12 hours on Saturday, the busiest day of the clinic, she said she was excited at the opportunity RAM gives the community, especially for something as important as oral health.
“Oral health affects your systemic health, so the things that you have going on in your mouth can affect your blood pressure, contributes to heart disease and diabetes, it all works together,” Ford said. “So when you don’t have good oral health, you can have chronic infection or chronic disease, it can make people feel awful all over.”
About 20 ETSU students volunteered throughout the weekend for the clinic, filling out a need for volunteers for the weekend. Ford said that in addition to helping the community, the clinic gives her students first-hand experience of their future careers.
“Students can clean in our clinic (at ETSU), but this is real world,” she said.
Taking past years into account, RAM officials expect to treat about 1,000 people over the three-day clinic, caring for about 250 patients on Friday.
Brian Gibson said this was his second year coming to the clinic, where he said he gets dental care and hearing aids. Without RAM, he said he’d just have to do without medical care.
“One trip to the dentist is $800,” he said. “I just can’t afford that.”
This was Reese Thornton’s fifth year coming to the clinic, and he brought along his guitar to pass the time and entertain other patients waiting for care. He sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which he said was his mother’s favorite song, to other patients while he waited for dental care on Saturday.
Thornton said he receives MediCare, but he is only able to get one cleaning per year under the program. He also said MediCare won’t cover the cost of his glasses, so he also receives vision care through RAM every year.
“A lot of people, you know, they’re just barely making it,” Thornton said.
The RAM clinic provided services to 830 people at the clinic in Gray last year, which totaled to about $487,228 worth of medical care. The clinic, founded in 1985, has served 740,000 people in rural communities across the country with the help of more than 120,000 volunteers. Each year, the clinic operates more than 60 mobile medical clinics across the country and the world, with the majority occurring in rural U.S. communities. Lambert said half of those clinics are in Virginia and Tennessee.
“There’s a great need for volunteers, too,” Ford said. “The more volunteers that come, the more work that can be done, the more people that can be seen and the more help is given to the community.”
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