Ken Plum: Day a year health care

ken plumIn a few days I will be driving about six hours from my home in Reston to Wise County in Southwest Virginia to volunteer at the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Health Clinic at the county fairgrounds. About 5,000 patients are expected to show up at this three-day health event for their once-a-year opportunity for professional health care. The RAM clinics were founded by television star Stan Brock to provide health care for indigent patients in under-developed nations. He soon learned that the same kind of care and services were needed in the Appalachian region of Virginia and Tennessee.

Organizing the health care days in Wise County is the Health Wagon, a mobile health clinic, that provides services throughout the year for a four-county region that is the poorest in the state. In addition to its clinic on wheels, the Health Wagon also has two stationary health clinics in Wise and Clintwood counties. The typical patient is 38 years old with an annual income of less than $20,000. These people cannot afford regular health care insurance, and since the Virginia General Assembly has refused to close the coverage gap they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

As Dr. Teresa Gardner, executive director of the Health Wagon, expressed it, “People here have got to make a call between paying their electric bill and buying their medication. It is disheartening to see someone who needs insulin and doesn’t have the cash.”

The RAM clinic is staffed with volunteer physicians, dentists, nurses, eye care professionals, and others. It costs about $95,000 to operate the clinic that delivers health care valued at an estimated more than $2.2 million. That is an amazing return on investment possible because of the generous donation of their time by health care professionals who see the tremendous need.

My volunteering at the clinic will be for the more mundane work as I am not a trained health care professional. In addition to helping at the clinic I am bringing to the attention of my friends the monetary needs of the Health Wagon. Please join me in making a contribution. The Health Wagon is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions to the Health Wagon are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. Mail your check, payable to the Health Wagon, to P.O. Box 7070, Wise, VA, 24293. Or you can contribute online at donatenow.networkforgood.

The Health Wagon was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes which described it as “medical mercy for those left out of Obamacare and ineligible for Medicaid.” To learn more, view the 60 Minutes segment at bandaid-for-states-not-expanding-medicaid.

Thank you for being willing to help. As a Commonwealth we need to be responsive to needs of all areas of the state. Until state government is more fully responsive to the medical needs of its lower-income citizens, it falls on all of us to help.

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