WEATHERFORD, Okla. - A massive free healthcare clinic is in Oklahoma this weekend to offer dental, eye care, and general health services that many simply cannot afford otherwise.
“I can’t tell you enough, I’m so grateful,” said Alice McClure. She and her sister Ellen drove five hours together from Hayworth, Oklahoma to stand in line for the clinic. “‘I’ve needed glasses for the past two years, and it’s just gotten so bad, it’s hard to read, it’s hard to see far away.”
Ellen said she knows how professional and kind the volunteers at RAM clinics are, having gotten sore teeth pulled at last year’s event. They had been infected for two years and caused agonizing pain.
“It was horrible,” she said. “Especially that last time, it had gotten really bad, and because of my condition I already take pain medication and even that wasn’t helping.”
Once again the two have made the trek to the no-questions-asked clinic. Organizers say they’ll ask your name at the front but you don’t have to provide I.D., you don’t even have to give your real name. You also won’t have to pay a cent.
“We don’t care what you have or what you don’t have,” said volunteer medical supervisor Colleen Madigan. “We just want to make sure that you get the medical services.”
Madigan is one of dozens of local and out-of-state volunteers who try to move as many people as possible through the clinic each day. She’s joined by dozens of doctors, dentists, nurses, and other medical professionals volunteering their time and expertise. In Oklahoma RAM events, most of the healthcare workers belong to the U.S. Public Health Service, one of seven uniformed services of the federal government. Without them, organizers say the event might not be possible at all.
“If these kinds of events are not available, then you have issues with people not being able to go to work, people have to miss a lot of work, children don’t want to go to a school,” said Stacie Pace, executive director of the Rural Health Network of Oklahoma. She helps raise money from companies like Delta Dental, and local banks to bring the even to life. As someone who self-identifies as having a “save the world” complex” she says loves the life-changing moments in people’s lives that are a result of the event. It’s a common theme among all the volunteers.
“[A 13-year-old girl] needed glasses. She was able to get two pairs of glasses. It was a complete transformation. This young lady was talking, and laughing, and she said it had been years since she was able to see her mother’s face,” Stacie said. It was just amazing.”
Glasses are just the tip of the iceberg. The two biggest needs are dental work and eye care, so there are stations for both lined up to get as many people through as possible. They’re so popular that organizers say you can only get one or the other on each day. So if people come on Saturday and get dental care, they’ll have to come back Sunday if patients want eye care as well, and vice versa. However, patients can get other medical care in addition to either both days.
Because the clinic depends on volunteer health workers, they can never guarantee how many spots there will be, or exactly which services and specialties will be available. However, they plan to have people who can treat things like diabetes, hypertension, and conduct physicals. There will be HIV and Hepatitis C tests, mammograms, pap smears, Narcan training (with free Naloxone kits), and even mental healthcare. Organizers said if any students need athletic physicals, they should bring the needed paperwork because RAM clinicians won’t have them.
The clinic will be held at the Southwestern Oklahoma State University’s Pioneer Event Center. On both Saturday and Sunday, those in line will be given numbers starting at 3 a.m., then doors will open at 6 a.m. However, even if you can’t make it that early, organizers urge people to still show up and get any pain or medical issue they have looked at and treated.
“You’re talking about people’s livelihoods that are being affected by their health,” Pace said.