Already at about 6a.m. cars are lined up and waiting for miles where they can check-in at the entrance of the Virginia-Kentucky Fairgrounds in Wise, VA.
For the last ten years, thousands of people in need in Appalachia and the surrounding areas have woken up in the middle of the night to stand in line and receive basic health care unaffordable to them.
This year, about 2,347 people flocked to Remote Area Medical Health Expedition (RAM) in Wise, VA at the Wise County Fairgrounds. Founded in 1985 by Stan Brock, RAM is a free clinic for those in need of basic health care in remote areas. The health expedition in Wise is the largest free health care clinic in the United States. The most needs in rural Appalachia are dental and vision care and many cannot afford a basic examination due to the lack of insurance or being underinsured. Many will arrive the day before to receive a number in line for when the gates open at 6a.m. Some drive for hours, some walk down the street to stand in line. For most, this will be there one chance to be seen by a health professional.
According to their website, last year RAM served nearly 5,800 patient encounters that worth more than $1.9 million dollars. 1800 volunteers and more than 800 health professionals participated in the three day clinic.
Judy Little and her son Jimmy Little of Castlewood, VA try to get some sleep after arriving at the fairgrounds at 3.a.m. Friday morning.
Waiting for their number to be called outside the gates.
Steve Bevins of Wise, Va., sits in the medical clinic with his children Canaan and Hailey as VCU second year medical student Emily Dunston discusses Bevins' symptoms.
Dr. Vincent Voci removes a small ball-sized cyst growing under Stephen Wright's scalp with medical assistance from Tammy Love. Wright, of Coeburn, VA, says he finally decided to come to RAM for the first time after girlfriend Tasha Mullins insisted that he check the bump on his head. Wright had the cyst for over twenty years and decided to take advantage of RAM because he does not have insurance where he works. If he had to pay for the surgery, Wrights says doctors estimated that it would cost $3-4,000.
Joyce Hamilton, 58, of Big Stone Gap, VA hides underneath her umbrella while waiting to receive health services. Hamilton says this was her second time at the clinic and was expected to receive her dentures and get an eye exam that day. "If you don't have insurance, it's worth the wait," she said.