Southern Virginia, RAM Serve Community With Free Medical Care

· March 7, 2014

Remote Area Medical returned to Southern Virginia University for the third time last weekend to hold a free health clinic that served nearly 600 community members.

Patients lined up as early as 3 a.m. to be seen by volunteer dentists, optometrists, and general practitioners who provided health care free of charge, regardless of income or insurance. The clinic opened its doors at 6 a.m. both days, running all day Saturday and throughout Sunday morning.

A total of 555 patients were seen over the two-day period, assisted by 236 volunteers who provided service at the clinic. Nearly 7 percent of patients at the clinic were children. The clinic gave away 323 free pairs of glasses and performed more than 900 dental procedures. Many dental patients received more than one of the available dental services, which included routine cleanings, fillings, and extractions. The total dollar amount of care was $254,500.

One community member, Meagan Martin, drove from Natural Bridge at 2 a.m. Sunday morning to get in line for a new pair of glasses, which she has not had for more than five years. Starting at 3 a.m., clinic volunteers began handing out tickets for a place in line.

“I got here at like three,” Martin said. “I was [number] 69 [in line], I think.”

Martin said the clinic was a pleasant experience, despite the early hour.

“It’s a really good thing that they do for people,” she said. “It’s really nice. I do the whole black Friday thing, so [waking up this early] doesn’t really bother me.”

Michael Goering, a biology major, helped organize the vision section of the clinic. Goering is a veteran volunteer of several RAM clinics, and said the opportunity to volunteer at RAM was a major factor in his decision to attend Southern Virginia.

“When I came here for an open house visit, Dr. [Barbara] van Kuiken presented about RAM,” Goering said. “And I just thought it was amazing. I was going to school in Iowa, and basically the reason I transferred here was for Dr. Van Kuiken and RAM.” 

Goering has found a passion for optometry in his volunteer service at the clinic.

“RAM was really nice to let me be in charge of vision,” he said. “It’s actually where I figured out that I wanted to be an optometrist. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but at my first clinic I worked the auto refractor — the one that measures your eyeball. I did that for five hours straight and I loved it.”

Van Kuiken, professor of chemistry at Southern Virginia, emphasized how important the service was to the community, especially to those who have a need for medical services.

“We have so many patients who will come up and thank us because for the first time in years they are not in pain,” van Kuiken said. “I had one patient yesterday who was thanking us because her son had to have his jaw wired shut because he was beaten by several men, and all of his teeth rotted from his jaw being wired shut. It was going to cost 10,000 dollars to fix his teeth and they couldn’t afford it. They said how life changing [the clinic] was.”

Van Kuiken said the economic toll of something as simple as a broken pair of glasses can be devastating.

“I’ve had truck drivers who can’t see because they broke their glasses and they had to stop driving,” she said. “Then they got caught in a loop because then they couldn’t afford to pay for new glasses.” 

According to van Kuiken, with these services, RAM can have an immeasurable impact on patients’ lives.

“These clinics are life changing for many people and I don’t know if everyone understands that,” she said. “It’s so valuable to the university because it gives great opportunities for service. It gives students great leadership opportunities as they work to put the clinic together. It’s a real bonding experience for the university and the community, so I’m really grateful [Southern Virginia] has given us support to hold these clinics.”