E&H hosts the RAM Clinic, providing dental, medical, vision and hearing services to underserved patients in the area

BY LINDA BURCHETTE | SMYTH COUNTY NEWS AND MESSENGER

Patients, staff and volunteers all seemed pleased with the new location of the Remote Area Medical Clinic at Emory & Henry College this weekend.

Saturday’s hot weather and Sunday’s expected rain were mitigated by the ability to conduct the clinic indoors. The space provided at the clinic was exceptional, according to the coordinators, the Reverend Harry Howe and Kim Faulkinbury.

“Emory and Henry were really kind and worked hard to make this happen,” Howe said Saturday. “Making their facilities available and working with us so that we can put everything in place to adapt to the necessary changes. So I think it’s going well.”

Howe ran the Smyth County RAM Clinic for several years before moving to the E&H campus in Washington County this year.

Faulkinbury is a clinic coordinator for RAM USA and has worked with the clinic locally since its inception.

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“We were delighted to work with Emory & Henry,” she said. “It was amazing. They were incredibly accommodating with anything we needed.

Faulkinbury said the clinic had a good number of patients this year providing them with dental, medical, vision and hearing services.

Services available at the clinic include dental cleanings, dental fillings, dental extractions, dental x-rays, eye exams, glaucoma tests, eyeglass prescriptions, eyeglasses made on site, patient health exams women and general medical examinations. Free take-home colon cancer test kits were available and vendors had set up to provide healthcare information.

“Patient numbers were good, about as full as you can get,” Faulkinbury said.

COVID is still impacting volunteer recruitment, especially in vision services, Faulkinbury said. There were no eye care providers on Saturday. Some were to be available on Sunday for limited service.

Howe said the number of patients is counted after the clinic ends, so he did not know on Saturday how many patients had been seen, but it had been a steady stream.

The move to E&H would be better over time, Howe said, as more patients become aware of the new location. Everything is contained in a smaller area with more space for each service that is both more accessible and easier to facilitate than at Mountain Empire Airport in Groseclose, where Ram Smyth County is from , did he declare.

“The airport was a great venue, always so nice, but with the heat it would be difficult outside,” Faulkinbury said. Some years have been exceptionally cold or rainy.

“Emory & Henry would love to host it,” Howe said of the RAM Clinic. So the plan is to keep it on the main campus. “It’s a good partnership. I hope that is what will happen.

Dates for next year’s event have been set with E&H, he said, and just need to be confirmed with RAM USA.

Another beneficial aspect of having the clinic at the college is student volunteerism. Many college students in medical training, particularly those from the E&H College of Health Sciences in Marion, helped out with the clinic, Howe said. Other colleges that sent students included Howard University and the University of Virginia.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said the college’s Ryan Boyer. “We are certainly happy to help. This is in line with our mission. We would love to have RAM back next year.

Over the past few years, RAM has attracted more than 1,000 patients seeking free care to the Smyth County Clinic.

Clinic volunteers come from all over the region, including Washington, Smyth and Wythe counties.

Kristel Dunford of County Wythe said the patients she has helped have been incredibly grateful for the services.

“It’s something to be able to see them leave with relief on their faces,” Dunford said. “I came to volunteer at the Emory & Henry Clinic because it is close to my home and even though I feel there is an urgent need for health care in rural communities all over the United States, it t is special for me to be able to come today to give back to my community.

“This is my first remote medical experience and I know it won’t be my last because I had such a great experience,” she said. “The employees are great to work with and the patients are so friendly.”

Patrick Faulkinbury of Louisa, a dental X-ray supervisor, has worked with RAM clinics throughout the region.

“I run our X-ray area…I take pictures,” he said. “That way our dentists can practice safely.”

“I’ve lost count of how many clinics I’ve done,” he says. “I do 12 to 15 a year. This place, I love it’s indoors. It may be hot this weekend, but we don’t have cold winds or rain blowing on us at an airport.

Food is another important thing at the clinic. Volunteers and staff were fed by E&H in the cafeteria while volunteers brought food to patients.

Reverend Emily Edmondson along with David and Darlene Crank of Christ Episcopal Church in Marion were on hand to provide sandwiches, drinks and snacks to patients passing through the clinic. The church has been providing food since the clinic opened in Smyth County.

“We’ve been, I guess for the last seven years, we’ve been making food for patients,” Edmondson said. “But we will feed everyone who comes by and wants something, including of course the volunteers. We just think it’s important to have something that patients can take with them if they can’t eat it because they’ve had dental work. It is now a mission of our church.

The impact of COVID-19 was still evident this year, as everyone who passed through the clinic was screened and required to wear a mask inside. The dental service area consisted of enclosed tents set up with controlled air circulation where patients received treatment and the tents could be cleaned between each patient.

Aaron Hinds, former promotions coordinator for the RAMUSA.orgsaid last year that some of the measures implemented for 2021 RAM clinics across the country may become permanent as the program progresses through the pandemic.

In 2020, RAM developed a new way to reach patients through telehealth services connecting volunteer healthcare professionals with patients seeking services through free online appointments.

Founded in 1985, RAM has treated more than 888,000 people with $181.5 million in free healthcare and veterinary services. Since its founding, nearly 183,000 volunteers, comprised of licensed dental, eye care, medical, and veterinary professionals, as well as general support staff, have supported RAM’s mission.

Michael A. May