June 23, 2010 — For the 10th consecutive summer, the University of Virginia Health System is preparing to send a brigade of volunteers to provide the medical component of the annual Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise County.
U.Va. will send 260 volunteers to this year's clinic, scheduled for July 23-25.
The clinic, which provides dental, vision and medical care to thousands of uninsured or underinsured patients, is held at the Wise County fairgrounds. It runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 6 a.m. to noon Sunday.
The contingent of U.Va. volunteers has grown every year. Last year, 240 volunteers went, but the additional help is necessary because organizers are again expecting a 20 percent increase in patients. Last year, U.Va. volunteers saw 1,372 patients, an increase of 21 percent from 2008, and provided an estimated $1.1 million in free care.
Among the U.Va. volunteers are physicians, registered nurses, pharmacy and lab employees, medical and nursing students and social workers. Some volunteers also will assist with patient registration and patient records. They will make the 300-mile trip from Charlottesville Wednesday or Thursday and sleep in dorms at U.Va.'s College at Wise.
In addition, dozens of pathology technologists, radiologists and other volunteers who do not travel to Wise contribute untold hours on mammograms, pap tests, lab work, pathology reports, patient records and other tasks. Smaller groups also return to distribute hearing aids to patients who are fitted for them at the July clinic and for the Remote Area Medical's annual fall clinic in Grundy, about 60 miles northeast of Wise.
Many RAM clinics focus on dental and vision care and limited medical screenings. U.Va.'s participation since 2001 has enabled the Wise clinic to provide extensive medical services. This year's services will include:
• Women's health
• Colon cancer screenings
• Pap smears/breast exams
• Ear wax removal
• Ear, nose & throat care
• Diabetes Management
• Endocrinology services
• Vaccinations (pneumonia, tetanus)
• Social services referrals
• Kidney disease/nephrology
• Emergency care
• Chest X-rays
• Lung disease/pulmonology
• Lab services (blood and urine tests)
• Occupational therapy
• Neurosurgery consultations
• Blood pressure management
• Cholesterol testing and management
• Skin care/dermatology
• Osteopathic services
• Foot care/podiatry
• Ingrown toenail management
• Plastic surgery
• Mole removal
• Massage therapy
• Spinal manipulation
• Smoking cessation counseling
• Dietary/nutrition counseling
• Bone density testing
• Telemedicine consultation
• Physical therapy
• Primary care, general medicine and family medicine
The Remote Area Medical organization has held an annual clinic in Wise County since 2000. It is spearheaded by The Health Wagon, a mobile clinic that provides free health care to underserved patients in parts of southwest Virginia, and is staffed by thousands of volunteers who come from all over the state. In addition to U.Va. and The Health Wagon, the Virginia Dental Association, the Lenowisco Health District, Norton Community Hospital, the Mountain States Health Alliance and Lions Clubs throughout Virginia are major partners, and many other organizations and health care providers in southwest Virginia provide volunteers and other support.
The Health Wagon reported that 2,715 patients received medical, dental and/or vision care at the 2009 RAM clinic, and 1,746 volunteers staffed the event.
Originally held at the Lonesome Pine Airport, the Wise clinic had to be moved to the fairgrounds in 2003 as it grew into one of the nation's largest free clinics. According to health care access research done by the Southwest Virginia Graduate Medical Education Consortium, 85 percent of adults in southwest Virginia have health insurance, and many have deductibles of up to $10,000 per year. Just 39 percent of those with insurance have dental coverage; 81 percent have prescription coverage. Twenty-one percent of adults reported that they used health care as a last resort or "suffered it out." Furthermore, the respondents reported higher rates than the U.S. or Virginia average for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, depression, being overweight, tooth loss and tooth decay.