WHEN WE HIT THE ROAD we usually leave behind whatever medical and dental arrangements we had—if we had any to start with. Your medical insurance might have been tied to a state or a certain provider network. You’re without a primary care physician, who is your gateway to specialized care. It seems that urgent care clinics and emergency rooms become our only resources. And money is always an issue. What can we do besides cross our fingers and wait for Medicare eligibility?
One answer is Remote Area Medical (RAM), an organization of volunteer medical, dental and vision professionals that runs free mobile clinics in underserved parts of the United States.
Suanne Carlson, head of Homes On Wheels Alliance, was recently divorced and had lost her dental insurance. She thought she would be okay and could go to the excellent, low cost dentists in Mexico if a need should arise. The need did arise—a severe toothache—while she was about 1,400 miles from Mexico.
Luckily, Suanne remembered a post on the CRVL forums about Remote Area Medical. She looked up their website and saw a listing of their various mobile clinics. There were two coming up in Nevada. That could work because she was already headed in that direction.
“They go from community to community with their large trucks that hold their equipment, their labs, their staff, and set up a full scale dental office with, could be, hundreds of dentists, oral surgeons and hygienists, with the full sterilization process to support that.” The same is true with medical and vision care. There’s mobile X-ray and RAM is even set up to make eyeglasses onsite.
“It is quite the experience to be a patient for RAM. They’ve set up a process that’s fair, however, it’s rather onerous in that there’s a lot of waiting.”
Suanne arrived at the designated parking area in Reno. They opened the gates at midnight, and as people drove in they were given a numbered ticket and instructed to be at the shuttle pickup at 4:30 AM to be taken to the actual clinic in a huge gymnasium. At the gym they waited for the rest of the people being shuttled, then lined up in the order of their numbers.
At 6:00 they were let in for registration where volunteers recorded patients’ name, age, emergency contact and such. They ask no income questions or insurance questions. It’s totally free to anyone who shows up. After that patients were sent to an RN or EMT for triage, where they’d check vitals, take medical histories and ask about meds you might be taking. If they didn’t find something that required other attention, like high blood pressure or diabetes, patients proceed to the medical, dental or vision area.
At this point, because some patients take longer to go through triage, the number they had been issued at the beginning no longer applies. Instead, it’s first-come-first served. You take a seat at the end of the medical, dental or vision line, and everyone moves up a chair when the person at the head of the line is called in.
“As I was waiting there, I had the person who was in charge of the dental clinic come up to me and just talk to me. I’m not a nervous Nelly at all. I’m pretty calm, But she knew the extraction was going to be difficult, and she was there to comfort me. It was really nice.”
“The dentist that served me, without hedging anything, was the best I’ve ever had, both in terms of skill and bedside manner.”
RAM has done so many of these mobile clinics they have the logistics of power, water, sterile procedures and other necessities all worked out.
Asked if she felt like anyone was looking down on her, Suanne answered, “I was not exactly sure how people were looking at me. But as I waited, and watched the volunteers, and interaction with the volunteers, I felt cared for, advocated for. There was no sense of judgment. Not at all. It was really kind of extraordinary.”
RAM, headquartered in Tennessee, has a small paid staff that comes to each clinic. But there are hundreds and hundreds of volunteers with high qualifications in their field that come to each clinic.
“It really does my heart good to see people with so much education willing to provide these services free to their communities.” Suanne continued, “Even while I was there, I was so impressed by this organization, it’s compassion, and the quality of service, and even the quality of the organizing that happened, that I thought, ‘I want to be part of this.’ In addition to feeling I wanted to pay back because they had given to me so freely, I thought it would be a cool organization to be part of.” So she volunteered for the next clinic in Pahrump. First she worked registering patients. Then she learned how to electronically file medical records. At another clinic she worked as a runner, interacting with patients, introducing them to the medical professionals. “That was probably my most enjoyable volunteer experience. I got to meet the patients and see what a difference the services made in individual lives.”
“I don’t share with people very easily the lifestyle I live. I shared that very slowly with a couple of the staff. And I have met nothing but acceptance for living as a mobile vehicle dweller.”
You can learn more about Remote Area Medical at ramusa.org. Their 2022 schedule is primarily in Tennessee and other eastern states. If you’re not near one of those clinics, RAM also offers virtual appointments.
Do you need to speak with a healthcare provider? Location is no longer a barrier to your access. All VIRTUAL appointments are FREE, and no insurance is required.
RAM is an example of the very best of humanity. People caring about people. It’s as if they say, “You have a need, I can meet it. Let’s get together.”