Wednesday, August 12, 2009
America's health care system is in crisis with costs skyrocketing and close to 50 million people are uninsured and millions more are underinsured. We'll look at how one volunteer-based organization is traveling across America offering free medical services to those in need.
The Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps will offer free medical services at The Forum in Inglewood, CA through next Tuesday, August 18, 2009.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. This week, a team of emergency medical volunteers who usually treat people in remote areas around the country and the world are doing something they've never done before. The charity group has set up shop at the LA Forum and they are providing free medical services to people in one of the largest urban areas in the U.S. Hundreds of people lined up before dawn to get free medical – that is, free dental work, free eye exams and glasses, and free testing for a variety of medical conditions. Besides providing much needed care, the event is also putting a human face on statistics that tell us of the tens of millions of people in this country who can't afford to see a doctor. The group that is organizing this event is called Remote Area Medical. And joining me now from the Forum in LA is Amanda Wilson, Program Associate for the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. And I want to say good morning to you, Amanda.
AMANDA WILSON (Program Associate, Remote Area Medical): Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Well, can you, if you can, just set the scene for us. What does it look like now at the Forum?
WILSON: Well, it looks extremely busy. We've got a lot of hardworking volunteers, a lot of very patient patients waiting in line for services and people are moving through very quickly and very smoothly. And it – it's – it just looks very busy.
CAVANAUGH: How have you actually organized the Forum in order to accommodate the medical services? Are there – Did you set up like a dental office on the floor of the Forum?
WILSON: We have mobile dental units, including a mobile chair with a mobile suction unit. We have about 70 to 80 chairs on the floor. And we have instruments, equipment to sterilize the instruments, and all of the instruments and numbing agents that we need. We've got doctors who are qualified and licensed, hygienists and dental assistants, and we've also got two fully equipped eye labs that can make prescription glasses. So when the patients come through for a vision exam and they need glasses, we've got a stock of lenses. We pull the lenses and make the glasses. We've got a couple of mobile medical vans from the Tzu Chi Buddhist group and we've got lots of other – We – we're using some of the rooms underneath the Forum so it's a pretty – pretty big event.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, you've taken over the place. Now, the other kinds of services that you're providing include various medical testing and exams for kids. Tell us about that.
WILSON: There's pediatric dentistry available. For medical, there are also cholesterol checks, diabetes checks, women's health exams, PSA testing for men, so there's – there are a variety of different services that are available in the medical area.
CAVANAUGH: Now how long did it take you to set up for this event?
WILSON: Well, we had been hoping to get into the Forum a little bit sooner but we actually set up in about 14 or 15 hours.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. And you got all this equipment in, and it's all volunteer, right?
WILSON: Yes. Yes.
CAVANAUGH: Now who's eligible to receive the services that you're offering?
CAVANAUGH: So you just basically show up at the Forum and you stand in line and you get a number?
WILSON: It's first come, first serve.
CAVANAUGH: All right.
WILSON: Yes, so that's the basic idea although we're adjusting things daily as needed, being in an area where large crowds are being drawn. So we want to make sure that we get the right message out about when we're accepting people into the parking lot and when and how many numbers are being distributed.
CAVANAUGH: And this operation began yesterday, is that correct?
CAVANAUGH: How many people have lined – let's say this morning, how many people have lined up? How many people have you seen?
WILSON: Well, yesterday we treated 800 people.
WILSON: 800 people received dental, vision and medical treatment, and/or medical treatment. And we had about 1500 people in line, so we diverted 700 of those people to come back to – this morning.
CAVANAUGH: I see. It's…
WILSON: And there were – there were a few who didn't finish receiving their services yesterday, they were first, then the people who didn't get in at all and then on top of those about 750 people, 500 people got a number last night.
CAVANAUGH: Do you have the sense that this is growing by word of mouth?
WILSON: Yes, absolutely. You had mentioned that some people in the San Diego area hadn't seen a lot of press coverage about it but it certainly is getting out somehow. It took about a half an hour to hand out 500 numbers last night.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I am speaking with Amanda Wilson. She is at the Forum in LA and she is Program Associate for the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps that is providing free medical exams, dental work, eye exams, to anyone who shows up at the Forum and wants free – some free dental work or the other examinations being offered. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Dave is on the line from Mission Valley. Good morning, Dave. Welcome to These Days.
DAVE (Caller, Mission Valley): Good morning. A question for your guest. I'd like to know what the process is for volunteering both for medical and nonmedical personnel. My wife is a nurse and I have a lot of experience with computers and radio communications. And I'll take my answer off the air.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Dave. You do – You do need more volunteers, is that right, Amanda?
WILSON: Yes, we absolutely need more volunteers. Volunteering is as easy as going to our website, www.ramusa.org, that's www.ramusa.org. Click in the middle of the page where it says click here for RAM LA info. There's a registration form that you can download, fill it out and bring it with you to the Forum.
WILSON: And if you're a licensed professional be sure and bring a copy of your current valid license.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So basically you fill out the form and you bring your license and you show up.
WILSON: Right. Unfortunately for this clinic, they have to all be California licensed professionals. We're not able to bring any professionals from out of the state. Our California licensed professionals are doing an excellent job and there's been a fantastic response. But we have been – we have been challenged because in – at our past events we're able to bring in doctors from out of the state because it's difficult to staff a clinic with only in-state doctors.
CAVANAUGH: And there is – is there a particular medical specialty that you particularly need volunteers in?
WILSON: Absolutely. We need volunteers in our vision area, we need ophthalmologists, optometrists, ophthalmic checks, opticians, anyone in the vision area who could offer just a little time each day to volunteer would really help.
CAVANAUGH: I wonder, Amanda, what are you hearing from the patients who are coming in for medical services about why they're there?
WILSON: Well, all of the patients are grateful, first of all. They're very, very grateful, very understanding that they're waiting in line once they understand the system. And there are, like at all of our clinics, there are various stories. If they have insurance, they can't afford the deductibles. Or if they've just been laid off, they no longer have insurance through their company, and all the way to being unemployed for various amounts of time. So we get people from all different instances. And that's why we don't want to screen because if someone does have insurance, we don't want to reject them if they can't afford their deductible.
CAVANAUGH: Right. We have another caller on the line. Marcy is calling from Encinitas. Good morning, Marcy, and welcome to These Days.
MARCY (Caller, Encinitas): Good morning. I heard about this yesterday and my son, who lives in Riverside County, he's 21, has no healthcare insurance and no job and he has wisdom teeth that are getting abscessed. How – I want to know how I can get him up there? How do I go about – I mean, he can drive up there. When does he need to come?
WILSON: Okay, how far away is that?
CAVANAUGH: He's in…
MARCY: He's in Temecula.
CAVANAUGH: You mean mileage?
CAVANAUGH: Amanda? That's quite a ride.
WILSON: Okay, right, right. And that's such a challenging question but let me tell you that as long as his wisdom teeth are in and it would not require sedation, that should be something that our dentist can be able to take care of. I will say that tonight we're opening the parking lot at midnight. The number of tickets depends upon the number of patients who will need to return tomorrow. That depends upon how late our volunteers, who are doing an excellent job keeping up with the pace, how late they're able to work. And, like I said, we would love to have more volunteers helping them. The more volunteers we have, the more patients we can serve and the larger impact we can have on the Los Angeles and surrounding areas. So the idea would be to show up at the Forum no later than midnight…
MARCY: All right.
WILSON: …and even then there's no guarantee because, like I said, 500 numbers were handed out last night in half an hour.
CAVANAUGH: Marcy, does that help you at all?
MARCY: It does, and I think you're doing a wonderful service and I wish – I wish I could be part of it. Thank you very much.
WILSON: Thank you, Marcy.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to tell Marcy and everyone else who's listening that you can go to KPBS.org/TheseDays and find a link to RAM's website so that you can find out more information for your own personal needs, whether you want to volunteer or whether you want to take advantage of this free medical service going on at the Forum in LA. You know, Amanda, I wanted to ask you, Remote Area Medical typically serves either remote communities in the U.S. or around the world and Los Angeles is a really new idea for you guys. Why did you decide to do this in LA?
WILSON: Well, we've been invited to areas around the United States for several years and we have always confronted the challenge of – or, been faced with the challenge of doctors crossing state lines.
WILSON: And after the 60 Minutes aired last March, the 60 Minutes episode, Lifeline, so many more people became aware of what we do and…
WILSON: …and it just brought out so many more volunteers and so many more people willing to help and saying we – we can do this even with facing some challenges. So we're facing those challenges head on and we're trying to serve as many people as we can and this is part of our new Reach Across America program, so this is our first expedition under the Reach Across America program and our first time to Los Angeles.
CAVANAUGH: And where are you going next?
WILSON: Next we're off to Fort Duchesne in Utah.
WILSON: And then after that we'll have a couple of clinics in Tennessee, a clinic in Kentucky and then it will be the end of the year.
CAVANAUGH: Any more big cities on your list?
WILSON: Not for this year.
WILSON: And our next year's schedule is tentative. We're – We have a couple of things scheduled but not firmed up.
CAVANAUGH: Are you surprised in any way about how much the need in LA is perhaps similar to some of the remote areas that you go into?
WILSON: There are a lot of similarities. There are people in need all across the United States and, like I said, for various different reasons. And anytime you offer free services to those people who are in such dire need, they show up by the hundreds. And there's no – there's no ignoring or denying that these people are here because they need this service. They need their health issues addressed.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm going to give you the last word to give that – your website out once again and also to tell people who might be listening and wanting to get involved how they might get involved.
WILSON: Okay. Thank you, Maureen. Our website is www.ramusa.org. Go to our website, click on the section that says click here for RAM LA, download an application and bring it in with a current license. We would love to have more volunteers. Ours are doing a great job. They would love some support, especially any vision specialists who are available who are licensed in California.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much, and thanks for taking the time out to speak with us today, Amanda.
WILSON: Oh, thank you so much, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Amanda Wilson is Program Associate for the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. She's up in the LA Forum, and that Remote Area Medical Volunteer operation will offer free medical services at the Forum in Inglewood through next Tuesday, August 18th. And if you didn't get the website address from Amanda, you can always go to KPBS.org/TheseDays for more information or to post your comments. And we will return with more of These Days in just a few moments.