June 23, 2009 — The University of Virginia Health System anticipates a substantial increase in the number of people seeking free care at the annual Remote Area Medical Clinic in Wise. The clinic, which treated more than 2,600 patients last year, will be held July 24-26 at the Virginia-Kentucky Fairgrounds.
"Given the nation's economic situation, everyone involved in planning this year's clinic expects patient turnout to reach unprecedented levels," said Dr. Scott Syverud, U.Va.'s medical director for RAM and professor of emergency medicine at the U.Va. School of Medicine. "We're anticipating a 20 percent increase in patient volume, which translates into more than 500 additional people. It's possible that our estimate will turn out to be on the conservative side."
Syverud says the list of medical services available at this year's clinic is varied and impressive. Offered for the first time will be physical and occupational therapy, neurosurgery consultations, neurology and massage services. U.Va. will also set up a fully functional pharmacy, lab and emergency room. Its on-site medical records office will register patients on the CareCast database to facilitate follow-up care by physicians at U.Va. and elsewhere.
Widely recognized as the largest mobile free clinic in the nation, the Wise clinic provides desperately needed services to thousands of Americans who are sick, suffering and have limited or no access to ongoing health care. During its 30 hours of operation, the all-volunteer clinic staff provides dental, vision, hearing and medical care on a first-come, first-served basis to people who are uninsured, underinsured, unemployed or cannot afford to pay. While most patients reside in southwestern Virginia, many come from Kentucky, Tennessee and beyond.
Since the clinic's inception in 2000, public demand for services has steadily grown and exceeded capacity. Despite making great strides in maximizing patient intake and throughput, clinic organizers have invariably turned away hundreds of people each year.
"We've reached a point where all available buildings at the fairgrounds are in full use. There is no room to expand the clinic's most sought-after services – dental and vision," Syverud said. "Fortunately, U.Va. has been able to surmount space limitations by using tents and mobile units. This has allowed us to increase our medical offerings, serve more patients and provide more patient encounters each year."
Typically, more than 500 people are in line at the start of each clinic day. Syverud said that organizers will continue their practice of encouraging patients who arrive after all dental and vision appointments are filled to access the many general, specialty and preventive medical services available at RAM.
"We're set up to treat urgent and existing medical problems, to improve management of diseases such as diabetes and to prevent the development of many health conditions," he said.
In 2008, U.Va. provided medical care to 1,133 patients, a 10 percent increase from the previous year. Some patients required multiple services and returned a second day, bringing the total number of patient visits provided by U.Va. to 1,846, up 15 percent from 2007. Obesity, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension were the most common medical problems. In all, U.Va. provided $1,048,942 in services, a record amount.
This year, U.Va. will bring more volunteers, provide added supplies and services and double the number of mobile hospital tents it erects at the fairgrounds. Its volunteer contingent will include 250 physicians, nurses, social workers, pharmacy and lab employees, patient registration and general volunteers and members of the Thomas Jefferson EMS Task Force. About a dozen medical volunteers not affiliated with U.Va. will also treat patients at the clinic.
The U.Va. Health System has been the key medical provider at the Wise clinic since 2001. In addition to the set-up day and three clinic days in Wise, faculty and staff contribute countless hours each year preparing for the event and handling follow-up activities after it ends.
In April 2009, U.Va. Health System received the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association's first Community Benefit Award for its role in the RAM clinic. The award, which recognizes member organizations that aid their communities in extraordinary ways, was shared with Mountain States Health Alliance in Tennessee and the Norton Community Hospital in Norton.
Participation in the Wise clinic is part of a major U.Va. initiative to create accessible, sustainable health care programs for uninsured and medically underserved residents of far southwest Virginia. Throughout the year, scores of clinicians either travel to the region to conduct specialty care clinics for children and adults or provide consultations and training programs via the Health System's numerous telemedicine sites in the area.
The RAM Clinic in Wise is a collaborative event made possible by numerous civic groups, schools, churches, government organizations, businesses and individuals. Since its inception, the clinic has been organized and coordinated by The Health Wagon, a mobile health provider in Clinchco. The Lions Club, Virginia Dental Association and the Lenowisco Health District are also major partners in the event. The clinic is managed by the Remote Area Medical Corps, a nonprofit, volunteer relief organization based in Knoxville, Tenn.
|Medical Services Available at RAM Clinic in Wise|
This story originally appeared on the U.Va. Health System Web site.