Patients, staff and volunteers all appeared pleased with the new location for the Remote Area Medical clinic at Emory & Henry College this weekend.
The hot weather Saturday and expected rain Sunday was mitigated by being able to conduct the clinic indoors. The space provided to the clinic was exceptional, according to coordinators Rev. Harry Howe and Kim Faulkinbury.
“Emory & Henry’s really been gracious and worked hard to make it happen,” Howe said Saturday. “Making their facilities available and working with us so we could get everything in to accommodate the changes that were required. So I think it’s going well.”
Howe led the Smyth County RAM clinic for several years before moving to the E&H campus in Washington County this year.
Faulkinbury is clinic coordinator for RAM USA and has worked with the clinic locally since its inception.
“We have been delighted to work with Emory & Henry,” she said. “It’s been amazing. They’ve been incredibly accommodating with everything we need.”
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Faulkinbury said the clinic had a good number of patients this year providing them with dental, medical, vision and hearing services.
Services available at the clinic include dental cleanings, dental fillings, dental extractions, dental X-rays, eye exams, glaucoma testing, eyeglass prescriptions, eyeglasses made onsite, women’s health exams and general medical exams. Free take-home colon cancer screening test kits were available and vendors had set up to provide health care information.
“Patient numbers were good, about as full as could be,” Faulkinbury said.
COVID is still impacting the recruitment of volunteers, particularly in vision services, Faulkinbury said. There were no vision care providers Saturday. Some were expected to be available Sunday for limited service.
Howe said patient numbers are counted once the clinic is completed so he didn’t know Saturday how many had been seen, but that it had been a constant flow.
The move to E&H would be better over time, Howe said, as more patients become aware of the new location. Everything is contained in a smaller area with more space for each service that is both more accessible and easier to facilitate than at Mountain Empire Airport in Groseclose where RAM Smyth County originated, he said.
“The airport was a great site, always so kind, but with the heat it would be difficult outside,” Faulkinbury said. Some years were exceptionally cold or rainy.
“Emory & Henry would like to host it,” Howe said of the RAM clinic so the plan is to keep it at the main campus. “It’s a good partnership. I’m hoping that is what will transpire.”
Dates for next year’s event have been set with E&H, he said, and just have to be confirmed with RAM USA.
Another beneficial aspect of having the clinic at the college is student volunteers. Many of the college’s students in medical education, particularly those with the E&H College of Health Sciences in Marion, helped with the clinic, Howe said. Other colleges sending students included Howard University and University of Virginia.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Ryan Boyer with the college said. “We are certainly happy to help. It’s along the lines of our mission. We would love to have RAM back next year.”
In past years, RAM has attracted more than 1,000 patients seeking free care at the Smyth County clinic.
Volunteers for the clinic come from all around the area including Washington, Smyth and Wythe counties.
Kristel Dunford of Wythe County said the patients she has helped have been incredibly grateful for the services.
“It’s something to be able to see them leave with a relief on their faces,” Dunford said. “I came to volunteer at the Emory & Henry clinic because it is close to my home area and although I feel that there is a dire need for health care in rural communities all over the United States it is special to me to be able to come out today to give back to my community.
“This is my first experience with the remote area medical and I know that it won’t be my last because I’ve had such a great experience,” she said. “The staff people are amazing to work with and the patients are so gracious.”
Patrick Faulkinbury of Louisa, a dental X-ray supervisor, has worked with RAM clinics all over the area.
“I am managing our X-ray area … getting images taken,” he said. “That way our dentists can practice safely.”
“I have lost count of how many clinics I’ve done,” he said. “I do 12 to 15 a year. This location, I’m loving it’s inside. It may be warm this weekend, but we’re not getting cold wind and rain blowing on us at an airport.”
Food is something else important at the clinic. Volunteers and staff were fed by E&H in the cafeteria while volunteers brought food for patients.
The Rev. Emily Edmondson along with David and Darlene Crank from Christ Episcopal Church in Marion were on hand to provide sandwiches, drinks and snacks to patients coming through the clinic. The church has been providing food since the clinic first started in Smyth County.
“We’ve been, I guess for the last seven years, we’ve been doing food for the patients,” Edmondson said. “But we’ll feed anybody that comes by and wants something including the volunteers obviously. We just think it’s important that we have something the patients can take with them if they can’t eat it because they’ve had dental work. This is a mission now of our church.”
The impact of COVID-19 was still in evidence this year as everyone coming through the clinic was screened and had to wear a mask indoors. The dental service area consisted of enclosed tents installed with controlled air circulation where patients received treatment and the tents could be cleaned between each patient.
Aaron Hinds, former promotions coordinator for the RAMUSA.org, said last year some of the measures implemented for the 2021 RAM clinics around the country may become permanent as the program moves forward through the pandemic.
In 2020, RAM developed a new way to reach patients through telehealth services connecting volunteer health care professionals with patients seeking services through free online appointments.
Founded in 1985, RAM has treated more than 888,000 individuals with $181.5 million worth of free health care and veterinary services. Since its foundation, nearly 183,000 volunteers comprised of licensed dental, vision, medical and veterinary professionals, as well as general support staff have supported RAM’s mission.