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Talking with Remote Area Medical Founder, Stan Brock

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Welcome to OpEdNews, Stan. Since 1992, you have been bringing medical teams to under served American communities. Your work has been reported on 60 Minutes and elsewhere. But before that, you were flying your teams into the Amazonian jungle and other Third World areas. Where did you get this idea in the first place?

RAM founder, Stan Brock

To answer that question, I can recount a recent breakfast meeting that I had with the sixth man to walk on the moon: astronaut, Ed Mitchell. We were in Tucson, Arizona. And he asked me, "Where did Remote Area Medical begin?" It began when I was a youngster, 17 years of age or so, and I was working as a vaccaro, or cowboy, on the northern frontier of Brazil in what in fact used to be the colony of British Guyana in the extreme south of their country. This is an extremely wild area of tropical savannah surrounded by rainforest.

I was given a horse to ride - Kang which is a Wapishana word meaning the devil - and Kang had already killed two other cowboys. And so we lassoed Kang in the corral and tied him up to a tree and put on the saddle, blindfolded him, and I climbed on board and we cut him loose. And Kang went bucking across the savannah and had a head-on collision with the side of the corral. I was badly injured, lying underneath him, when the cowboys (all the cowboys were Indians) came running over and pulled me out from underneath Kang and one of them said in Wapishana "Well, the nearest doctor is 26 days on foot from here." And so, that was the time I got the inspiration that we needed to bring those doctors a little bit closer.

And when I told astronaut Ed Mitchell that story, he said, "Gosh. I was on the moon, and I was only three days from the nearest doctor." And I said, "For the people in the northern Amazon, and those people we are now treating in the United States, they might as well be on the moon for the opportunity they have to access the health care they need." So, this organization has its roots in the Amazon and I'm happy to say that we have a full-time operation down there now. We keep an airplane down there that flies free air ambulance forthe remote Indian tribes and just had several teams down there doing cervical cancer treatment and surgeries. However, since 1992, when we started the American program, about 64% of everything we do is here in the United States.

Was it a difficult decision to make to switch gears from the Third World to America, the wealthiest country on this planet?

It wasn't difficult at all, really. Of course, we started out in a very small way. Overseas, we take small teams and we've worked in Africa, India, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and many other places. In fact, one of our affiliates, RAM Canada, is down in Bolivia, as we speak. But those were always, and still are, essentially small teams of a dozen people perhaps of various specialties, traveling by whatever means might be at their disposal: bush plane, canoe, foot, etc.

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So when we started the program here in the United States, we really started out after we had a request from a very poor county here in Appalachia that had lost their dentist. We literally put a heavy dental chair that we borrowed in the back of a pickup truck with a couple of dentists and the helpers and drove out to the location and fixed some teeth.

And after doing one, we started to get requests for others. Pretty soon we were doing this on a very regular basis. To date we've done 584 of these operations and the equipment has been improved and expanded. And so now we have the capability to go to a place like Los Angeles and set up 100 dental chairs and 20 lanes of eye exam equipment and make brand new eyeglasses on the spot in our mobile labs and various types of medical assistance as well.

So it's grown since 1992 to a very large and significant operation. We've had over 45,000 volunteers in the field and hundreds of thousands of patients.

How do you decide where to go and how often do you shoot off on another expedition?

We had a board meeting here just the day before yesterday and one of the volunteers, who was doing some research, came up with a figure that we've done thirteen of these operations since our last board meeting which was in June. So we are doing two or three a month and sometimes one every week. Which is, of course, a great burden on the volunteers. But, you know, the greatest impediment to what we do here in the United States is that, for some extraordinary reason I've never been fully able to understand, a doctor, a nurse, a veterinarian duly licensed and qualified in one state, who's been to regulated standards of their particular medical school, are not allowed to take that license that they may have earned in one state and cross state lines or cross the country and provide free care in another state.

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Except here in the state of Tennessee, where we changed the law in 1995. So what happens, of course, is that we're asked to go to - a case in point being Los Angeles - and we set up all this equipment. We petitioned the State of California to allow us to bring in volunteers from outside the state to supplement those who were willing to volunteer who were licensed in California.

Unfortunately, that petition was refused and so, as a result, on many of the eight days that we were there, we might have only 25 dentists working at those 100 chairs and of the 20 lanes of eye exam equipment, on some days we had only three or four eye doctors. I was turning thousands of people away. So we ended up doing 6,334 patients and that sounds like a big number, but we could have done 12,000 had we been allowed to bring in practitioners, volunteers, to provide free care from other parts of the United States, as we are indeed allowed to do here in Tennessee.

Is the reason that the law changed in Tennessee because of the kind of work you do?

Indeed. Back in 1993 or '94, Bud Gilbert, a Tennessee State Senator, asked me "What could we do to make your job of providing free care for Tennessee citizens who need it easier?" And I said, "Well, change the law so that we can bring in additional helpers from outside the state." So, this was debated for a year or so in the legislature and they passed the Volunteer Health Care Services Act in May of 1995. And we've been using that ever since. It has a very, very simple requirement: that is, you show up, produce a copy of your license from another state, we run it through the computer system and roll up your sleeves and get busy. That's the way it needs to be throughout the country. But there is great resistance from vested interests.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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