Remote Area Medical hosts free clinic in Tennessee

Crossville, Tenn. Native Ray Buechler, 47, gets teeth pulled during the RAM medical clinic in the gym of Cookeville High School. Tooth extractions are the most common service done by volunteers during clinics.

Skyler Ballard

At  2 a.m.  on Saturday, a steady rainfall was illuminated in the headlights of hundreds of cars packed into the parking lot of Cookeville High School in Cookeville, Tennessee.

At 3 a.m., a group of volunteer ROTC members from Tennessee Technical University tapped on the windows of each car, handing out small paper tickets to grateful, grinning and weary faces.

At 5 a.m., men and women dressed in scrubs and volunteer shirts filled coffee cups in preparation for the long day ahead.

At 6 a.m., Stan Brock, founder of Remote Area Medical, swung open the doors, welcoming Tennesseans to the Cookeville Remote Area Medical free mobile clinic.

Remote Area Medical, often referred to as RAM, is the largest provider of free mobile medical care to the underserved and uninsured in the United States. The non-governmental organization has been working to bridge the health care gap for Americans for the past 31 years.

“All Americans should have peace of mind.’ said Brock, who established the organization in 1985. “Everyone should have access to medical, dental or vision care when they need it.”

During the clinic on March 18 and 19, the Knoxville-based organization provided free vision, dental and medical services to nearly 900 individuals. This was the second mobile clinic hosted in Cookeville, and the first to be organized by college students.

“We have around 300 volunteers and hope to have about 1,000 patients,” said Tennessee Tech student and RAM volunteer Antonia Susnjar.

For many of the individuals, RAM is the primary source of healthcare. Because the tickets are handed out on a first-come first-serve basis,  many camped out in the parking lot to ensure their spot in line.

Ray Buechler, 47, of Crossville, Tennessee, arrived in the parking lot twelve hours before the doors opened. Buechler was in need of dental services and received one of only ten tickets that included dentures.

“I’ve never seen something like this,” said Buechler. “It’s nice that they do this for so many people that can’t afford it.”

Though the event is free of cost for those who receive tickets, Dental Assistant Yvonne Evans of Antioch, Tennessee doesn’t let her patients leave without paying her the price of a hug.

“It’s crazy,  the stories you hear,” said Evans. “Many of these people have nowhere else to go. It’s worth it any time we can help a person out of pain.”