Americans line up for free care


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Patients receive dental care from volunteer dental professionals on Tuesday, 27 April, during a weeklong free clinic conducted by Remote Area Medical. (Photo by John Dlugolecki)
Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

By Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

Wed. 28. April 2010


NEW YORK, USA: Despite the passage of health care reform legislation earlier this year, many Americans today lack the financial resources to afford medical and dental care. As a result, thousands of patients are lining up at events in places like Los Angeles, Chicago and even Idaho Falls, Idaho, to receive free care.

One nonprofit volunteer organization, called Remote Area Medical (RAM), is staging a weeklong free clinic in Los Angeles from 27 April 27 to 3 May.

At the event, at which volunteer medical and dental practitioners offered free care daily from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., the demand for services is so high that a wristband system has been put in place to ensure the orderly handling of the large numbers of people who are showing up.


RAM was founded in 1985 by Stan Brock to offer free health care services, including dental and vision care, to people in underdeveloped countries. Since then, the organization has also been running free clinics in the United States.

“There really is a problem here in the United States,” Brock told CBS News. “It’s not just in the Amazon and in places like Haiti.” Today, Brock said, “64 per cent of everything we do is here in America.”

Over the years, RAM has successfully held hundreds of free clinics providing services to thousands of men, women and children.

According to the organization, dental services are one of its core offerings and have provided relief to thousands of patients over the years. Poor dental health is a frequently seen problem in the hills of the southern Appalachians, where RAM’s services are desperately needed. Patients often arrive with serious dental problems, often affecting their overall health. In a single visit, many of these can be improved.

The RAM dental program has grown from offering only emergency extractions in the early days to include restorations, cleanings, fluoride treatments and oral hygeine instruction today. Even advanced procedures, such as dentures and simple root canals for anterior teeth, can be performed. Dedicated volunteer dentists provide services free of charge.

In all, 300 medical volunteers are expected to serve 1,200 patients a day for the RAM event in Los Angeles. At a RAM event there in 2009, more than 6,000 patients were treated.

But not all free care events are so large.

In Idaho Falls, Idaho, recently, Dr Tom Anderson of Premier Dental Care organized a local event called ‘Great Friday’ in which 40 professional volunteers treated more than 100 people, some of whom had to wait more than five hours.

“It was so much fun, and the patients were so gracious,” Dr Anderson told Dental Tribune.

Two other dentists — Dr Gene Hoge of Pocatello, Idaho, and Dr John Hisel of Boise, Idaho — also participated.

Anderson credited his wife, Lisa, for organizing the event. He also said companies like Henry Schein Dental provided much-needed supplies and equipment. Anderson said Shea Davis and Dennis Everly of Henry Schein Dental were particularly helpful.

Events like ‘Great Friday’ come at a welcome time for many people. Many of the benefits of the new health care legislation won’t kick in for several more years, but even when they do dental care will still be unaffordable to many. So it’s no surprise that with the current state of the health care system, such free care events, both large and small, are likely to continue.

For its part, RAM is planning to hold another free clinic 26 to 28 August in Chicago, in response to that city’s large number of medically underserved people.



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