- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

WISE, Va. | Nearly 2,000 people crowded onto a southwest Virginia fairgrounds Friday and waited hours to receive free dental care, eyeglasses and medical procedures.

Remote Area Medical founder Stan Brock said the daily limit of 1,600 patients for the three-day clinic in Wise County was reached by 5:30 a.m. Friday. Another 200 people were admitted to the treatment area later in the morning, but several hundred more had to be turned away.

“If there’s an event that more dramatically displays the need for health care, I don’t know what it is,” said Gov. Tim Kaine, who spent an hour volunteering at a registration table Friday.

Mr. Brock said the number of people showing up for free care because they lack either jobs or health insurance demonstrates a need to revamp the American health care system.

“It’s outrageous that we’ve got all these people waiting all day,” Mr. Brock said.

Mr. Brock started his organization with the goal of using volunteer medical professionals to serve underdeveloped nations, but it now devotes 64 percent of its efforts to care in the U.S. because the need is so great.

As a result, he said, the volunteer corps has cut services in countries such as Haiti and Guatemala as well as African nations.

Patients began camping out on the grassy southwest Virginia field Wednesday from as far away as Florida, although most of those seeking treatment were from the depressed coal-mining region.

Stella Barr of Glade Spring drove 90 minutes to register at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, so she was the fifth person admitted when the clinic gates opened at 5:30 a.m. Friday. She was happy that by 11 a.m. she had had her teeth cleaned, gotten three fillings, and picked out new glasses after receiving an eye exam.

She had to wait for her husband, though, who only registered Friday and had 931 people ahead of him.

Tammie Mullins of Clintwood has been one of the clinic’s 1,500 or so volunteers for the past seven or eight years. She said it seemed busier this year because the economy has declined.

The waiting area for dental work was jammed.

“I really can’t eat,” said Christine Garrett of Nickelsville in southwest Virginia, who was hoping a dentist could do something about several missing teeth on both sides of her mouth.

Debbie Kilbourne of Castlewood was having trouble walking with three plantar’s warts on one foot. She was directed to the tent where Dr. Vincent Voci, a plastic surgeon, was working.

Many people have more than one type of procedure, and most were seeking dental work and eye examinations. Those areas were far busier than the canvas tents, where patients could receive cancer screenings and tests for diabetes and cholesterol.

“We have to encourage people to see the doctors,” said Amanda Wilson, a RAM employee.

Mr. Brock said many people would wait all day, only to be told by evening that they had to return Saturday because doctors and dentists could fit in no more patients.

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