Welcome back for the third installment of my interview with Remote Area Medical founder, Stan Brock. Can you walk us through a recent expedition, Stan, so the readers can get a feel for how it works?
It's not rocket science and, after doing 583 or 584 of these things, we've
obviously got these things down pretty well. We get an invitation to go
somewhere. We accept the invitation if we have room on the schedule. We start
putting out an APB [All Points Bulletin] for medical volunteers and then when
the appropriate time comes, which is usually a couple of months later, we load
up all the trucks and tractor trailers, and in some cases, some of our donated
aircraft and fly and drive off to the location.
Most of the time we do these things in a school. And most of them are set up on a Friday, after the kids leave the school. Six or eight hours later, we have all the dental and vision and medical all set up. The local hosts have sent out fliers and been on the local radio and newspaper so that the public who need the service are aware of it. And they've got to be there early.
start arriving and lining up. If we're going to open the door on Saturday
morning at 5:30, there'll be people lined up there at 3:30 or earlier the
afternoon before. And then we hand out numbers throughout the night so,
unfortunately, unless you get there very, very early in the morning long before
opening time, chances are your number will be too high and we won't be able to
So, they walk in the door then by numbers and we take a brief history
of what they need and whether they're taking any kind of medication and we pass
them off to a group, sometimes as many as 50 nurses, who do the vital signs,
blood pressure, and so forth, which is very important if you're going to be
pulling out teeth. And then they're escorted to the dental area or the vision
area or the general medical area or all of the above. Because very often they
want all of the services.
And then the treatment phase begins. And we also try
to feed the patients too. Many of the patients have been standing out all
night. They're hungry and a lot of them have problems with diabetes and low
sugar. We try and provide snacks for the patients, and of course, also for the
So how long is the typical day for a volunteer?
The day will go until 7 or 8 at night. And then we have to find accommodations for everybody, which has been done ahead of time by the host community. These doctors, who are coming from far and wide not only buy their own airline tickets, if they're coming to Tennessee, but they pay for their own hotel bills as well. So you know there are really good folks out there who are willing to help.
That's why they need to change the law so that these wonderful, willing
practitioners of all the healing arts can go anywhere where they want to and
provide this much needed care. A common remark from a doctor is "Gosh,
I've been going to Guatemala. It's easier to go to Guatemala or West Africa to
treat patients than it is to do in my own country." Except when they come
to Tennessee and they say "Wow. Yeah. That's the way it should be,
throughout the country."
Back to the volunteers. Do you get many repeaters?
Oh yeah, we get a lot of repeat volunteers. A typical weekend operation will use 3-400 volunteers and many are from the local area and are not medical. So, if we go back to that same place again, and very often we do, there will be similar faces. Last weekend, we had eight dentists who flew down here to Tennessee from Buffalo, New York. Kevin DeAngelo, a very fine dentist, is a regular with us. They had a couple of airplanes and eight of them came down. There are regular visitors to Tennessee. When we go outside of Tennessee, of course, they can't do it.
How frustrating! You have people who are willing to give the time and spend their own money to do it and you're all thwarted.
For 15 years, I've been getting requests from patients to hold one of these events in Washington, DC, the nation's capital, and permission has always been denied because of the licenses. But I was up there last week, and we have some volunteers in the District who are working on the problem for us, meeting as recently as yesterday with the dental board and, back in September, meeting with the board of medical examiners for physicians. We're hopeful that the health boards in the nation's capital are going to allow us to bring in additional helpers from outside the District from all over the country.
So, we are planning to hold a massive event in the nation's capital as soon as practical but the requirement is going to be to bring in people from outside the state as well as finding a suitable place to hold it - of large size. A big event like that takes about 40,000 square feet of floor space and it has to be donated which of course is another story.
do all these things cost? The highest costs for us are the fuel for all these
trucks and donated aircraft when we use them and, of course, buying dental
supplies and eyeglass lenses that we grind into the new eyeglasses that we
make. So, there is considerable expense involved but what we don't need are the
expense of renting buildings and paying for police and security personnel, but
sometimes those charges confront us. It's the nature of the beast.
You bring up a good point - the actual dollars and cents required to run your programs. How do you come up with it?