Medical professionals who travel the world treating poor and underserved people at no cost will bring their services next month to Northern California.
Dental, medical and vision care will be available to the public April 1 to 4 at Cal Expo in Sacramento. The same services will be available April 9 to 12 at the Oakland Coliseum. All services will be offered for free on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of income or employment status. Volunteers will distribute admission numbers to patients expected to be waiting in long lines each morning before the doors open, organizers said.
"There are no criteria," said Stan Brock of Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, which runs the clinics. "Everybody will be treated the same. The only qualification is that you have to show up." Based on past experience, hundreds of unemployed or uninsured people – including many from outside Northern California – are expected to line up overnight for a chance at free health care the next day.
At a seven-day clinic last year in Los Angeles, volunteers treated about 1,000 patients daily but "turned away probably twice that many" each day, Brock said.
Services to be provided include dental extractions and fillings; eye exams and prescription glasses; diabetes and hypertension consults, acupuncture, blood lab work and chest X-rays. More information is available at www.ramusa.org/expeditions/2011/northerncal2011.html
Brock founded RAM in 1985 as a nonprofit charity in Tennessee that provides free medical care in remote areas of poor countries. Since 1992, the group has expanded its mission to the United States.
A hurdle to treating more patients at free clinics is finding enough professionals to meet the demand for care. In the United States, many states do not allow volunteers licensed out of state to practice at RAM's clinics, Brock said.
California law was changed last year to permit out-of-state medical professionals to participate. But concerns about how the legislation is being implemented has prompted clinic organizers to seek a special waiver from the state.
Logistics for the April events are being handled by the California Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation also is recruiting professionals from its community clinics.
At least 350 dentists, doctors, nurses, opticians and other care providers are needed for each day, organizers said.
Professionals and other volunteers to help set up and direct patients can sign up at www.ramcaliforniavolunteers.org
. Donors also can make tax-deductible contributions at the website to help cover the expected $200,000 cost of each clinic in Sacramento and Oakland.
The oral surgeons association invited RAM to Northern California after members volunteered last year at the Los Angeles clinic. Pamela Congdon, executive director for the association, said she had expected most patients to be homeless people.
"I was surprised at how many were people … just like you or me," she said. "They were getting free care because they had lost their jobs or insurance, or they had medical but no dental."