Hundreds of Tennesseans spent Friday night in the Cookeville High School parking lot. They were lined up to get into a free, traveling clinic this weekend, which for some has become a primary source of healthcare.
Like Erin Walker. She's been a patient before at the first-come, first-served event run by Remote Area Medical (RAM). The Crossville resident and her husband arrived at one a.m. to make sure they’d get in. There were already more than 350 people in front of them.
Walker is uninsured so she goes to RAM clinics whenever she can. Even just to accompany others. "I like sometimes coming and just walking around and hanging out with whoever’s coming because it’s just amazing," she says. "Everything about it is amazing."
The Walkers were among nearly 900 people who got free medical, dental or vision care — or all three — from volunteer medical professionals this weekend.
RAM was set up in the 1980s to boost access to healthcare in the developing world. Since then the primary focus of the Knoxville-based nonprofit has become the U.S.
Its makeshift clinic at Cookeville High included 50 dentists’ chairs in the gym, vision-testing machines above the bleachers and physical therapy in the hallways.
Events like these take place several times a month across the country. And not all the patients are uninsured, as RAM CEO Jeff Eastman points out. In Cookeville, at least 20 percent had full-time jobs, yet still needed help covering some of their basic medical care.
"That’s your favorite waitress and waiter. That’s the guy working down the street in the factory," says Eastman. "We’ve had County employees come through. They actually work for the County and came here for care."
Last year close to 30,000 people were treated at RAM clinics, which continue to grow in urban centers, including cities like Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle.