As Health Care Crisis Looms, Patients Treated In Animal Stalls

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Once a year, Remote Area Medical turns a county fairground into a medical haven for those who can't afford the most basic care.

For years now, Remote Area Medical has served the most impoverished areas of Southwest Virginia in an annual three-day event that should put a failing Congress to shame.

Every year, 1,400 volunteers turn a Wise County fairground into a labyrinth of clinics to make sure an underserved population is getting its most basic medical needs. 

It is a sight to see: Animal stalls turned into makeshift rooms, vast tents lined with beds — each one with a patient on it, people clutching their number as they wait their turn, some sleeping in their cars or in the fields nearby.

“Mr. Trump really needed to be here,” RAM founder Stan Brock told The Roanoke Times. “There’s been absolutely no change in the number of people that come to these events since the day I started it in the United States.”

Brock founded RAM in 1985, and while his original plan was to serve people in developing nations, he has found the need in the United States too phenomenal to ignore. The large majority of RAM's pop-up clinics service areas in the United States, and the number of patients has only increased over the years. 

“Ninety-odd percent of what we do is here [in the U.S.] because of this,” Brock explained. “Let’s fix it, and then we can start concentrating on these other places that we were formed to help.”

Long lines of people, many of them families with children who simply can't afford to go to a regular doctor, can do nothing but wait, sometimes for days. Teresa Gardner Tyson, executive director of The Health Wagon who helped bring RAM to Wise County 18 years ago, said that quite a few patients show up with life-threatening conditions because they have put off getting medical help for so long. 

"To be honest, I would be ashamed to be a politician in Washington right now,” she remarked. “To take insurance away from one person is really unconscionable.”

Ninety-eight percent of the people who take advantage of the clinic are uninsured. The county is a red one and full of President Donald Trump supporters who expected change for the better, but are instead forced to watch Congress duel over health care bills that would all but sentence some of the more seriously ill patients to death.

“We’re sicker here than in Central America,” said Dr. Joseph Smiddy to the New York Times, a lung specialist who has spent time on charity trips there and has volunteered with the RAM clinic in Wise County since 1999. “In Central America, they’re eating beans and rice and walking everywhere. They’re not drinking Mountain Dew and eating candy. They’re not having an epidemic of obesity and diabetes and lung cancer.”

Politicians preach about what a great nation the U.S. is and what a wealthy country it has become, but the truth is that it is currently a nation that only benefits its wealthy. Even with some forward-motion via Obamacare, the fact of the matter is that there is a long way to go still for health care.

Thousands of people waiting to be serviced by volunteer doctors in a stall where cows are fed before auction and slaughter is not the image of a great nation. However, it is an image to think about. It is an image to act on.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Wikimedia Commons user Rmoon64 

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