Glasses or Groceries? RAM Eases the Choice

A medical relief organization that first served international health-care needs is focusing closer to home on America’s underserved. For some, the free health-care clinic designed to serve thousands of patients in one weekend is a primary source of healthcare.

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Remote Area Medical clinic sets up shop only once a year in Southwest Virginia, but Michele Kokoska is a regular.

“At the moment it is my main source of health care,” said the resident of Coeburn, Virginia.

Veteran patients like Kokoska know to arrive early to be one of about 3,000 patients to receive care. She got the Wise County Fairgrounds in Wise, Virginia, at 7 p.m. on a Thursday to be near the front of the line when volunteers started handing out numbers at 3 the next morning.

Others arrived even earlier.

“Lack of insurance brought me out here today,” said Kokoska.

Although it began as an international relief program, Remote Area Medical (RAM) now also works domestically, traveling across the U.S. to provide comprehensive health care. 

For one weekend in July, the Wise County Fairgrounds in Wise, Virginia, are turned into a health-care carnival with participants traveling from all over Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina seeking medical care.  Although the Affordable Health Care Act has expanded access to medical care for some, gaps persist.

Glenn Burdick, R.N., a healthcare provider from Front Royal, Virginia, has volunteered at RAM for three years and runs a free clinic in Front Royal. He said he’s seen first-hand the pitfalls of the current health-care system. 

“It’s a shame we can’t put politics aside and take care of our people,” he said.

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