Content(Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series exploring the total health of Cleveland and Bradley County residents. While the series looks at the big picture of health, it also addresses …
(Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series exploring the total health of Cleveland and Bradley County residents. While the series looks at the big picture of health, it also addresses specific components, as well as options for self-improvement.)
The Regional Area Medical (RAM) clinic — which visits Cleveland and other cities to bring free healthcare for a short window of time — is coming to Cleveland on June 1 and 2.
The annual RAM visit sets up on Friday afternoon May 31, and provides its services starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, June 1, until it closes on Sunday evening.
A RAM clinic is a major nonprofit provider of free mobile clinics. Its mission is to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need. This is accomplished by delivering free dental, vision and medical services to underserved and uninsured individuals.
This year’s clinic will be held at Cleveland High School, since the school offers numerous rooms for each medical professional to use to treat patients away from troublesome weather.
RAM’s corps of more than 135,000 volunteers, which include licensed dental, vision, medical and veterinary professionals, have treated more than 785,000 individuals and 68,000 animals, delivering $135 million worth of free care. Veterinary services will not be available in Cleveland this year.
Most of the medical professionals are locals, and volunteers are also from the local healthcare community.
Sherry Park, co-director of the Cleveland RAM Clinic, is one of numerous volunteers who work to ensure a seamless transition for the doctors and dentists serving at the clinic.
“RAM brings all of the equipment, and each town provides the site. RAM provides rapid testing and results for diseases like HIV, so if you’ve got a disease and don’t know it, you’ll know it before you leave that day,” Park said.
The clinic also provides immunizations, pap smears and a new addition this year to aid men, which is prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests.
Several doctors will be present, including the RAM’s medical director Dr. Karen Gilson and Dr. Brian O’Coyle.
“Dr. Gilson is a certified diabetic educator as well as physician, which is very helpful because we get some people who come in with a 500 blood sugar count,” Park added.
While RAM’s doctors and dentists aren’t able to perform major surgeries, they can handle a wide variety of treatments and inspections.
Dental work is one of the most requested needs patients have, so dentists perform everything from tooth extractions and cleanings to tooth fillings, excluding root canals or major oral surgery.
Some who visit the RAM clinic may not realize they have other health issues plaguing them, and that these issues may prevent them from receiving the services they desire.
For example, someone with a high blood sugar count cannot have a tooth pulled, so they must first address their blood sugar before moving to the dental work. For these people, the on-site doctors can prescribe necessary medications to address these issues and help them get down to the original reason for their visit.
The clinic also has a reputation for helping people decide it’s time to see a specialist about certain physical ailments they’ve been ignoring. While they can’t treat specialized issues, the clinic’s doctors can perform inspections and diagnose ailments.
Park explained the RAM has discovered potentially life-threatening maladies in the past through basic dental or medical checkups. One instance she relayed was of a young woman whose dentist at the RAM discovered a cancerous tumor in her mouth. Thanks to the fast actions of the doctors, she was taken to specialists and treated.
“Having these doctors and experts there has been life-saving,” Park said. “People have had seizures or fallen in the past, and we’ve got it covered.”
Optometrists are also present, and not only provide vision screenings, but also check for vision hindrances, such as glaucoma and cataracts.
A lesser known aspect of RAMs is the mental health portion, and this year’s Cleveland RAM will feature mental health expert Dr. John Vining in attendance, along with several of his students. Together they’ll provide counseling services or simply be a person to talk with.
“Some people don’t need long-term help, but just need a little bit of guidance and someone to talk to,” Park said.
Since Medicare doesn’t cover dental or vision, many elderly people wait as long as it takes at RAM clinics to get these services. Park explained these services are often too expensive for both the elderly who rely on monthly checks and young adults who may be having to work multiple jobs to pay bills.
Compared to many clinics, the RAM is intended to be convenient for patients, and is a popular option for parents with little to no access to child care throughout the week.
Anyone is allowed to attend the RAM clinic, as no financial or insurance questions are asked by doctors. The organization tries to host a large clinic each year, and due to the high demand for its services, sometimes tries to have a smaller, additional one at St. Therese Catholic Church at a later date.
Park stressed RAM clinics are important to those who are served by the doctors and dentists. Due to the high demand, the medical professionals can’t help everyone and must turn people away each year. Because of this, anyone planning to attend the clinic is urged to arrive late in the week around Thursday or Friday, as the line can grow very long.
RAM helps each city it comes to, and now it’s Cleveland’s turn.
For more information, go to https://www.ramusa.org or call Park at 423-645-2377.
(Next: Although statistics show use of tobacco products and nicotine by local residents is trending downward, another habit is apparently taking its place. Vaping will be explored on Monday's website and in Tuesday's print edition.)
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