For many of us, when we get sick, we go to the doctor. It’s not that easy for many Americans.
The CDC’s latest national numbers show 1 in 12 Americans under 65 is uninsured. Another study shows 1 in 5 is considered underinsured, meaning they don’t have the funds for out-of-pocket expenses or co-pays.
A group of traveling doctors and nurses are providing solutions to communities across the country.
It was an exciting enough day that it was hard to sit still for 8-year-old A’ziya. After all, it was a bit urgent she went to a community meeting space on this day.
“Somebody ran over my normal glasses,” she said. “They fell out of my backpack.”
A’ziya was with her sister, 11-year-old Aniyja, and mom Dorisha West.
Like everyone else walking through the doors, there was a story that brought this family here.
They’re from little Springfield, Tennessee, where West is a teacher’s assistant. She’s a mom of five who is covered by health insurance, but she said the co-pays for her children and herself add up.
“My dental pays so much, and I have to come out maybe $400 or $500, and that’s a lot with five kids,” said West. “I wonder sometimes how a lot of people make it work.”
West said being a mom is a sacrifice. In paying for her children to get everything they need. She hasn’t been able to take care of an overwhelming pain in one of her teeth.
“I can’t sleep at night,” said West. “Sometimes you can’t even function when you’re in pain. I just deal with the pain. My kids, they come first.”
Poppy Green is the senior clinic coordinator for nonprofit Remote Area Medical.
“Our mission is to prevent pain,” said Green. “It’s tough. They’re making very real decisions every day about healthcare.”
Remote Area Medical sets up mobile clinics in communities across the country where they’re invited, about 60 a year. Volunteer medical professionals give free health care including dental, medical, and vision services, even making prescription glasses.
Green said a lot of the people they see are uninsured. Then, there are a lot of families like West’s.
“They’re just struggling to make ends meet,” said Green. “They’re deciding between their own health care needs and putting food on the table.”
Another reason people show up, you’ll find in the country. According to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research, since 2005, there have been 181 rural hospital closures. With people lacking nearby options for care in many rural places, Green said Remote Area Medical can arrive and address some of that need.
Whatever it is that brought them here, Green said people wait in line in the earliest morning hours, sometimes even overnight, to be seen.
“They have healthcare needs that have been neglected for months, if not years,” he said.
West said she’s just grateful for the dental care to take away that pain.
“I haven’t been able to eat the shrimp that I want to eat!” laughed West.
West is grateful her daughter is finding new specs after the last pair met an unfortunate end. An 8-year-old believes a day like this is worth being excited.
“People that you know and love, your neighbors, people of your community are struggling,” Green said. “It’s an honor to play a small part in helping them out.”
For more on Remote Area Medical, visit RAMUSA.ORG.