Thousands Fill The Forum for Free Medical Care

Week-long event offers indicator of overwhelming need as volunteer medical professionals who set up shop in old sports palace reach capacity by 5 a.m. on first day.
2009_0702_cp_bass_brings_budget_debate_to_south_la_580x290.jpg
Left: HEALTH CARE NOW — Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, right, shakes hands with Stan Brock, founder of Remote Access Medical (RAM). The Tennessee-based nonprofit organization is providing medical care — from exams to root canals to prostate screenings — absolutely free through Aug. 18 at The Forum in Inglewood. RAM is only equipped to treat 1,500 individuals per day; about 1,000 people — part of the 47 million people in America who are without medical insurance or are underinsured — had to be turned away on Aug. 11. Right: Dr. Brennan Hughes, oral and myofascial surgeon.

The Forum in Inglewood has become the staging location for what is being called one of the largest free health care events in the United States.

Remote Area Medical (RAM), a Knoxville, Tenn.-based nonprofit organization, is in Inglewood to provide free medical care for those in need.

RAM has been serving patients in rural parts of the country and underdeveloped countries, and it has expanded its campaign to include U.S. urban areas.

Inglewood is not exactly remote and doesn't have a third world designation, but if the first day of the event was any indication, RAM's help is sorely needed.

To optimize its efforts, RAM has enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteer doctors, nurses, optometrists and dentists to perform everything from root canals to eye exams, HIV and prostate cancer screenings, child vaccinations, mammograms and acupuncture.

More than 30 community-based organizations were on hand to help serve at least 1,500 patients each day.

The mobile medical clinic will provide services from about 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Aug. 18 and is expected to rack up about $6 million in free medical care over a weeklong period, according to Andrea Van Hook, a RAM L.A. volunteer and spokesperson.

Thousands showed up for the opening day of the event to ensure they would have their medical needs addressed. Many began camping out and lining up on the evening of Aug. 10, while others, with children in tow, got in line in the wee hours of Aug. 11, the day it began.

Only 1,500 people can be seen each day. Already at capacity by 5 a.m., organizers had to turn away about 1,000 people on Aug. 11. So many people showed up during the rest of the week that RAM organizers gave away all of its wristbands, and no other patients can be seen, according to a news release.

Interestingly, the medical clinic was launched on a day when President Barack Obama held a town hall meeting to bolster his health care reform. Health insurance was a decisive issue during his presidential campaign.

Statistics indicate that about 47 million people in America are without medical insurance and millions more are underinsured.

Willie Hampton, 53, is one of them.

He agrees that something has to be done about health care in America. He was one of the fortunate ones to receive treatment Aug. 11 after arriving at The Forum at 9 p.m. the day before.

"Everyone should have health care," said Hampton, who hasn't had medical care in more than three years. "Something has to be done."

Hampton, who received dental and vision care at the clinic, said the time he waited to be seen "didn't bother" him.

"I'm just happy to be here and to be able to get some work done," Hampton said. "This was just great. This is a fabulous idea."

The idea is the brainchild of Stan Brock, who at one time starred on the television program "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom."

Having survived malaria, dengue fever, several wild animal attacks and various encounters with Longhorns and mustangs in British Guiana (now Guyana) when he was young, Brock understands the need for medical care. Luckily for him, he survived without the care of a doctor. Others weren't so fortunate.

"I had to bury some of them," Brock said.

After being thrown from a horse and being told medical care was a 26-day trek away, Brock made what came to be a life-altering decision.

He was going to make it his mission to somehow get an all-volunteer health care program into remote areas of the world.

That was more than half a century ago and Brock, 72, kept that promise. Today he conducts about 30 to 40 clinics annually. Recently, RAM had conducted 575 missions. Los Angeles is number 576.

He applauds the medical professionals who provide the free health care.

"I'm proud of how this country has stepped up," said Brock, but stressed there is a desperate need for more medical professionals to volunteer.

Dr. Brennan Hughes, 48, an oral and myofascial surgeon, is one of the volunteers. He has been practicing for nearly 18 years, but nothing prepared him for what he saw in the Forum on opening day.

"I was prepared professionally for this, but not emotionally," said Hughes, who was expected to see about 80 patients. "Some of the stories are very emotional. I've been getting hugs and high fives from people. I'm here to provide assistance to those people who can't afford it or don't have access. It makes me feel really good to know that I can help."

On opening day, elected officials, health professionals and religious and community leaders all joined Brock to kick off the massive medical event.

"The human spirit can be seen here today," said Mark Little, a spokesman for Faithful Central Bible Church, which owns The Forum and donated the building for the week. "Witness the largest free medical clinic that RAM has ever done."

When she heard about RAM, Congresswoman Maxine Waters said she was initially skeptical about whether the organization could actually provide the services it promised. She has now changed her mind.

"This is a big job to tackle," said Waters, who applauded everyone for getting involved. "I applaud Mr. Brock and his efforts. There are a lot of town hall meetings going on across America. I'll have another story to tell about what happened today in Inglewood."

For more information, visit www.ramusa.org. Click here for information about RAM LA 2009 at The Forum in Inglewood.

Darlene Donloe is a writer for the L.A. Watts Times.

Photo of RAM LA at The Forum by by Damien Smith. Photo of Dr. Brennan Hughes Darlene Donloe.

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