The first Remote Area Medical Clinic in Alabama was set to take place in 2020. However, COVID-19 had other plans.
“We were within two weeks of having this clinic when Gov. (Kay) Ivey shut the state down, so we had to table this,” Angela Anderson, East Central Alabama Area Health Education Center’s director, recalled in February.
Next week, the dream will finally become a reality as the clinic prepares to take in patients at Gadsden City High School on April 23 and 24.
The clinic is a way for people in the area to receive medical, dental or vision care they need completely free of charge, no questions asked.
Anderson said the only things potential patients need to bring with them are things they would like to have as they wait; there’s no need to bring identification or proof of health insurance.
“The only thing people need to be willing to do is get in line and wait their turn,” she said. “Patients will be waiting in their cars for a long while to enter the clinic, and we will have outdoor bathrooms available to people as they wait.”
Anderson advises those planning on coming to the clinic to have an idea in mind as to what they want to have done as a best-case scenario. She said in February that potential patients can only visit two of the three centers a day, so if a patient wants everything done, they will have to come and wait both days.
“The only limitation is that patients can only choose to go to either dental or vision along with medical. It takes too long for a patient to go to both in one day,” she said. “However, these patients can also come back the next day and receive the other service they didn’t get the day before.”
While Anderson and clinic staff won’t know how many patients they will end up serving until the official numbers are sent in a few weeks after the clinic, she said that they are preparing to see as many people as possible.
“We’re prepared to see a heck of a lot of patients,” she said. “I know I’ve been to clinics that have seen upwards of 800 to 1,000 patients.”
Anderson said the number of stations that will be set up for the clinic has been confirmed: 60 dental chairs, 10 lanes of optometry and three different bays for general medical care and women’s healthcare.
Services to be provided include pap smears, lab work, a 360-degree X-ray and “flipper partials” that can be created on the spot for small-scale tooth replacement.
“They’re gonna be amazed at the level of care that they’re going to receive,” Anderson said. “We have some of the best dentists, doctors and optometrists in the state coming to help out, including some doctors coming in (from) as far as Oregon.”
She said patients will be able to browse additional services, such as COVID-19 testing and vaccinations for COVID, the flu and Hepatitis A.
“We will also have testing available for HIV,” she said. “If a patient decides they want to partake in those, they will be free of charge as well.”
The hope is that most of the treatments patients need can be provided on the day they visit the clinic, but Anderson said there will be a list of physicians for referrals. Those won’t be free, however.
“The free ends when the patient leaves the RAM Clinic … and does not continue,” she said. “We’re trying to not leave them out in the cold if they need more work done. We will also have the work we’ve done on them sit on file with RAM forever, so they can access those records from (company headquarters near Knoxville, Tennessee).”
The clinic will have resources available to patients who may need assistance paying for those referrals, such as through its partnership with Quality of Life.
The last time she spoke on the clinic, Anderson said the biggest struggle was gathering enough volunteers. That is no longer the case, as more than 500 people have agreed to take part.
“It’s pretty amazing to see all of that come together,” she said. “We’ve got it all coming, from the eyeglasses station to the dental work. Afterward, we will have an estimate as to how much free care we gave out.”
Anderson said accommodations will be provided for out-of-town volunteers in the form of hotel rooms, although there were some unexpected charges because of the Geico 500 NASCAR race being the same weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
“We got hotel rooms for anyone who needed them but we had to pay a premium price for some of them,” she said. “Some people gave us a discount, but because it’s their big weekend, we really couldn’t deny them.”
Community leaders have also found a way to help volunteers coming into Gadsden for the clinic. Etowah County Commissioners Jeffery Washington and Craig Inzer have helped secure a bus for UAB dental students.
“It helped us a lot because the dean of the dental school decided that, with gas prices and traffic, he would rather have his patients on a bus where they could be transported back and forth,” Anderson said. “People at the school thought it would be safer for their students to have transportation set up. We paid for it, of course, but they (Washington and Inzer])were the ones to set it up.”
“People in the community have really bonded together over this,” Inzer said. “We were able to get buses lined up to pick up students from a location in Birmingham and bring them here and safely take them back.”
Anderson said the biggest hiccup they’ve experienced with getting the clinic set up was “trying to regroup after two years of COVID,” but the setup and finalization of plans have been going smoothly.
“Things that I thought were developing into problems (were) all ironed out and worked out beautifully,” she said, “Of course, the RAM people are super professional, so they know how to spot check these kind of things. As of Monday, we weren’t missing anything, which is pretty amazing.”
She said the biggest thing the clinic needs from the community at this point is to spread the word and to get their neighbors who need these services to Gadsden City High in any way they can.
“If they have a neighbor who needs to come see us and they are willing to, we need people to be bringing them here,” Anderson said. “If they can bring someone who’s a shut-in, that would be very fantastic. That’s our key right now.”
This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Gadsden to host first Alabama Remote Area Medical Clinic