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Urban 'Triage' Comes to Those Without Insurance

The Final Call, News Report , Charlene Muhammad Posted: Aug 24, 2009

While politicians and pundits bicker and protesters clashed at town hall meetings over U.S. health care reform, thousands of people lined the streets outside the L.A. Forum to receive free medical care.

Between Aug. 11-18, Remote Area Medical, a global, all-volunteer non-profit effort, transformed the onetime Forum arena, which serves Faithful Central Bible Church, into a massive triage station. People lined up on the parking lot as early as 12 midnight each day. Doors opened at 5:30 a.m. for medical, dental and vision treatment on a first come, first serve basis, no questions asked. Cataract and oral surgery were among available services.

An infected tooth can't wait until Congress debates health care reform. We're taking care of people who need help now, said Stan Brock, RAM founder. The former co-host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom started RAM as a way to help deliver basic medical care to the Wapishana Indians and other needy populations around the world.

Mr. Brock lived among the Wapishana in the Amazon rainforest for 15 years, and worked a cattle ranch in a remote area. The nearest doctor was 26 days away, and like the Wapishana, he endured pain and suffering due to isolation from medical care.

The Los Angeles event was RAM's first foray in a major metropolitan area, and its 576th humanitarian mission in what it characterizes as a series of expeditions into the heart of urban America. Mr. Brock called the Forum an island of hope and help for thousands of people who desperately need the care. Other expeditions are scheduled for Utah, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.

By day one, RAM's 864 volunteers had provided or performed 95 tooth extractions, 470 fillings, 45 mammograms, 140 pairs of eyeglasses, 43 HIV tests and 93 tuberculosis tests. By the end of the week, some 8,000 people had received care. The patients were of different ethnicities, but the majority were Black and Latino.

I got here at 4:30 a.m. I was ticket number 1,315, said an excited Wanda Prince. She waited almost three days and maneuvered through four stations just to get her prescription glasses. She had no complaints. This is a blessing, because we're allowed to get the things that we weren't able to get. There are a lot of unfortunate people here, even with jobs, but that doesn't cover glasses and root canals, which sometimes range between $500 to $1,000, but we're getting them for free, Ms. Prince said.

The wait in line wasn't nearly as long as the two years she has been without the eye care needed for her cataracts. While waiting for eyeglasses, she got a tuberculosis test, a tetanus shot and acupuncture.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 46 million Americans under age 65 had no health insurance in 2007. The National Coalition on Health care said with the recession alone, nearly seven million Americans will lose health insurance coverage between 2008 and 2010.

John Samgmoah, a physician's assistant from Ghana, heard about the event on the morning news and decided to check it out and volunteer. What he found was an amazing flood of people who had gone without medical care for years, and who, whether they didn't have insurance for whatever reason, were going to be able to see a doctor.

The essential part of it is now connecting these patients with local services that are free that quite a number of them have no idea that exists, and it's not only those people who are on the down side of things. You have people who are anywhere from being on the streets to people who have really had it going on, except they don't have insurance, Mr. Samgmoah said.

S. Pearl Sharp volunteered to help patients register for dental services and noted that dental care was a priority for most who came. Thirteen empty dental chairs, however, signaled a shortage of volunteer dentists. People were grateful for the help and recognized their need for health care, she said.

I hope that a lot of our local organizations are paying attention to what RAM is doing and realizing that this is possible. I mean there's all this talk and it's interesting that at the exact moment that this is happening, there are all of these town halls around health care and people are picketing, shouting and screaming, but here at the Forum there's peace and care and offering, volunteering and healing, Ms. Sharp said.

Related Articles:

Achieving Healthy Immigration Reform

Domino Effect Keeps Minorities Out of Health Care Professions

What Health Care Reform Means for Latinos


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