Now in its 20th year, the joint effort by RAM and The Health Wagon will see more than 1,500 doctors, nurses, other medical professionals and volunteers manning medical and dental tents and shelters to serve a projected 3,600 adults and children this weekend.
About 20 vehicles were parked in the fairgrounds as patients staked their place in line for Friday’s 6 a.m. opening. Some families had set up tents next to their vehicles.
Inside the fairgrounds, pallets of hygiene packages were ready for the crowd. A shelter held rows of dental exam chairs, and waiting areas were stocked with rows of plastic chairs.
In a ceremony with volunteers at the main stage of the fairgrounds, Health Wagon Executive Director Teresa Tyson and RAM CEO Jeff Eastman each credited Brock for RAM’s impact on the region.
“We know he’s looking down on what we’re doing here,” Tyson said of Brock, who died in October.
Brock in 1999 worked with Health Wagon founder Sister Bernie Kenny to establish the first RAM clinic at Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County. Since then, the event has grown in patient load, organizations supporting the three-day event and in the range of services provided.
Eastman recounted Brock’s five different careers — wildlife expert, television star in Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” cinematic worker, pilot and RAM founder.
“Stan’s legacy is those people he’s motivated,” Eastman said. “Please volunteer and make a difference.”
“Stan Brock was really and extraordinary person,” said radiologist and cardiologist Joe Frank Smiddy, who also has worked with the RAM Wise County event from its first year. “In Stan’s words, if we provide health care to one person, we can change a community. If we can change a community, we can change the world.”
Smiddy credited Brock with helping show volunteers how to provide low-cost health care in a mobile setting.
“He could inspire workers and volunteers, and his words were simple: ‘We need you,’ ” Smiddy said.
Kenny, who retired several years ago, was one of several RAM and Health Wagon staff who were recognized for their service in two decades.
Tyson told volunteers that RAM is making a difference, pointing to a growing shift in the clinic’s dental services to more cleanings than extractions.
“Hang in there,” Kenny said, referring to the evening’s heat and humidity. “It’ll get better tomorrow.”
“It took 20 years, but we are on an upward trend in Southwest Virginia,” Tyson said.
State Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr., R-Mount Solon, told the RAM group that the General Assembly’s authorization of federal Medicare and state Medicaid expansion has helped Virginia residents get better health care access.
“It will help but not totally eliminate the need,” Hanger said. He pointed to more than 290,000 new Medicaid enrollees across the state, including almost 20,000 in Southwest Virginia and 2,500 in Wise County.
Health Wagon clinical director Paula Hill said that patients can expect a few changes from previous RAM clinics. Only limited dental services will be provided on Friday, with a full dental staff providing exams, cleanings and extractions on Saturday and Sunday. No denture repairs or new dentures will be offered this year.
Instead of shutting down at noon on Sunday, this year’s RAM will stay open until 2 p.m.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to tour RAM on Friday, and patients will be able to watch RAM’s DC-3 transport — often flown by Brock — do a flyover if weather permits.