U.Va. volunteers make a difference in Southwest Virginia
by Donnie Sorah / The Coalfield Progress
|Adults and children receive free food and drink as they
wait their turn to see health care professionals at the RAM
clinic. The grandstand of the Wise County Fairgrounds horse
ring serves as a waiting room.
By John Mongle
WISE, VA. — Karen Maxton described to a middle-aged woman a series of tests
that a doctor had just ordered for her. There was to be a blood count, a urine
test and others. For Maxton, a phlebotomist supervisor at the U.Va. Medical
it was work as usual — except for where she was and the patients she was
Maxton’s lab on that sweltering late-July afternoon was in a tent built
with white tarpaulins. Her desk was a folding table; climate control was an oscillating
fan. The ground was soaked from recent rains.
are walking around on a tarp with mud underneath it,” said Jessica Monroe,
with the University’s Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. “It’s
like walking on a water bed, but we are having fun.”
Maxton and Monroe were among two of more than 100 volunteers
from the University at the Wise County Fairgrounds — a more than five-hour drive from their
air-conditioned offices and state-of–the-art labs — who helped out
in the fifth annual Remote Area Medical, or RAM, Clinic, held July 23-25.
Preliminary results showed more than 6,000 patient “encounters” (one
patient could have more than one encounter). The U.Va. team, which was joined
by other volunteers from around the state and the U.S., accounted for well more
than half of the medical staff there.
|Dental instruments laid out and ready for use.
Maxton’s patient was tired and worried. She arrived early in the morning
and was talking to Maxton late in the afternoon. She waited for months for a
chance to see a doctor and find out why she hasn’t been feeling
well. The wait at the fairgrounds was long as well.
would like to have two or three more phlebotomists and a couple
of more tables,” said
Maxton. “These girls haven’t sat down. They’re drinking hot
bottled water, but they are hanging in there.”
Couriers ferried specimens in coolers, packed in dry ice, to
local hospitals and back to the University, but that
was only part of the
Before she left Charlottesville, Maxton, who supervises 30 people,
had to make sure
all of the shifts were covered for the staff members she brought
“That is a major deal,” she said.
Virginia’s coalfields are plagued by low wages, high unemployment and no
health insurance. For many, this was their only opportunity this year to see
a doctor, a dentist or to have an eye exam.
You expect this kind of need in another country, not in this state,” said
U.Va. pharmacist Michelle Hobbs, who is making her third visit to Wise County
as a volunteer. ”People down here are wonderful, and they are very receptive
to our help.”
Preparation for her three days in the field started in January
as she began to collect medicine to load into a rental
truck for the
rounded up drugs from pharmaceutical company representatives,
including antibiotics and
hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol medicines.
Generic drugs were supplied through the University Hospital
budget and by Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit, volunteer
organization providing care to
underinsured and the unemployed. The program started
in Virginia’s coalfields
after Sister Bernadette Kenny of Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Norton
helped out in a similar clinic in rural northeastern Tennessee.
Tiffany, with his back to the camera, of Leesburg Lion’s
Club, administers a hearing test to Charlotte Gruber of Lebanon,
Hobbs managed to solicit and bring over $200,000 in prescription
drugs to Wise County, with the total worth of medical
supplies on hand for
is the unsung hero in this group,” said Dr. Claudette Dalton, who led
the U.Va. group. “She worked with the dental folks to get a voucher system
going for pain medications, since we do not bring narcotics.”
Dalton’s commitment to the project is stalwart, as is the commitment of
those whom she brought along.
down here are tough, and all they want is a little help,” Dalton
said. “We try to look at these people as members of our family who’ve
fallen on hard times.”
More than 1 million Virginians are underserved
when it comes to healthcare, so Southwest Virginia
problem is focused there
affects so many in the population.
the United States, 18 percent of the population has hypertension;
here it is 50 percent,” said Dr. Ross Isaacs, a U.Va. nephrologist making his fourth
trip to the RAM clinic. “Eight percent have diabetes nationally; here it
is one in three. The problem is, these are preventable diseases.”
Isaacs voices the adamant commitment of the
entire U.Va. group: “I will
be back as long as the problem is here.”
is a sad statement that the main way these people get health care
is when people have to come from all over to provide it,” said Dr. Moe Nagjarni,
a University internist. “The success of our mission is an indictment on
the health care system.”
|Carl Hale, 14, of Cleveland, Va., is anesthetized by dentist Ben
Campbell. Hale received five
fillings at the Remote Area Medical Clinic, held July 23-25 and supported
by U.Va. volunteers.
came from U.Va., local Wise County hospitals, medical practices
University’s School of Dentistry,
the Lions Club eyeglasses program and
from around the country to help out.
think this is absolutely one of the most meaningful efforts that
takes place anywhere in Virginia,” said state Secretary of Health and Human Services
Jane Woods, who volunteered and helped raise money for RAM this year. “The
blessing is there are so many talented people willing to pitch in. And the tragedy
is that the need is here, but blessings overcome tragedies.” Medical personnel take contact information
and follow up with patients on their
test results, and make
arrangements for transportation to
Charlottesville should a patient need
a specialty not found locally.
The three days in late July produced
over 3,000 medical exams, over 1,200
over 1,000 eye
exams, with glasses
terms of the big picture, this is a Band-Aid that is repeated every
Nagjarni. “We are not addressing the underlying problem.”
But, for Edna Banks of Coeburn
it was a chance to get needed glasses
love it,” she said. “The people of Wise County need this. I hardly
have enough money for groceries – to me this was a Godsend.”