Stan Brock on the challenges of founding a volunteer medical corps to treat some of America's many uninsured and underinsured.
By Joan Raymond | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Wise County, Va., may be one of the most picturesque places in America. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, it is home to more than 40,000 people, who make their homes in towns with names such as Big Stone Gap, Toms Creek, Crab Orchard, and Cranes Nest. It sounds idyllic, but many of the people here and in surrounding communities and states are hurting. They can't afford dental, eye or primary medical care services. Some are on disability from working in the region's coal mines. Some are underinsured. Some simply don't know what help is available. Some have no insurance at all. And on July 25, 26 and 27, more than 2,500 of them came to the Wise County fairgrounds to seek help from doctors, eye specialists and dentists who volunteered with Remote Area Medical.
Since 1985, RAM volunteers, about 37,000 strong, have provided more than $33 million in free care on some 600 expeditions around the country, but mainly in the medically underserved areas of Tennessee and Virginia. They've made more than 70,000 glasses and have extracted nearly 110,000 teeth. And their vets have seen about 64,000 animals. RAM founder Stan Brock believes there is still a lot more work to be done. Brock, best-known for his stint as the animal-wrangling co-star of the iconic television show "Wild Kingdom," is no stranger to living rough. He grew up in the Central Amazon Basin and spent 15 years as general manager of the 4,000-square-mile Rupununi Development Company Dadanawa Ranch in Guyana. Brock started RAM to provide care to people in Third World countries. Today, about 60 percent of the group's care is provided to folks in rural America. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Joan Raymond about why he set up camp in the United States. Excerpts.
NEWSWEEK: How did you become interested in medical care?
Stan Brock: I lived with the Wapishana Indians in the Central Amazon Basin for many years. We didn't have health care. The nearest town was more than 30 days' walk. When I was 17, a horse damn near killed me and I had to get medical care. I knew from that point on that someday I would do something to bring care closer to these wonderful people, but the need for health care for everyone just kept getting bigger. I mean, there's nearly 50 million people in the U.S. without any kind of coverage, and I don't know how many who are underinsured. All you need is one catastrophe, a job loss, and those numbers swell.
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