After 20 years of providing health care services in Wise County, Remote Area Medical announced Friday morning that it is discontinuing its leadership in organizing a free clinic in Wise next year.
Moving forward, it will be focusing its efforts on areas that lack the health care provided by the kinds of organizations and nonprofits that have been active in Wise in recent years, RAM said in a press release.
Although RAM will be pulling out of Wise, a free clinic will continue to be organized by the Health Wagon, a nonprofit that provides mobile health services to medically underserved communities in Southwest Virginia.
Teresa Tyson, executive director of the Health Wagon, said in an interview Friday that next year’s free clinic in Wise will be called the Move Mountains Medical Mission and will feature the same partners that have been at the RAM clinic, which has notably offered vision and dental care.
“We will continue to have the same services,” Tyson said. “We actually are going to be adding to the services we’ve had in the past.”
In its press release, RAM cited community health partners — like the Health Wagon and Mission of Mercy — that “have built infrastructure and capacity around eye, dental, and medical resources in the Wise, Virginia community.”
“Because of this, and because of RAM increasing its number of clinics in surrounding areas, the number of patients served at the Wise, Virginia clinic has declined year-to-year over the past several years. At the same time, RAM continues to receive dozens of clinic requests from communities across the country that, due to capacity, the organization is unable to fulfill,” RAM said in its statement.
RAM said that since 2013, it has expanded its average number of mobile clinics in the U.S. from 13 a year to over 61 in 2018. These new clinics have included parts of southwest Virginia, eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee.
“We feel it is the best use of RAM’s time and resources to focus on areas that lack the excellent health care that The Health Wagon, Mission of Mercy, and other organizations are able to provide in Wise County,” RAM’s CEO Jeff Eastman said in the release. “We are honored to have worked with The Health Wagon and Mission of Mercy in the past and to have served the Wise community.”
The most recent Wise RAM clinic took place in late June at the Wise County Fairgrounds. The three-day clinic provided free services — including vision and dental — to 1,128 individuals, which was about 200 fewer patients than the year before. The clinic has provided an opportunity for people who are uninsured, underinsured or lack access to affordable services to receive the care they need.
In the release, Tyson thanked RAM for its work in Wise County.
“We are honored to have worked with RAM and all the incredible partners who have made the largest health outreach of its kind in the nation possible year after year,” she said in the release. “This is a time of transition and The Health Wagon is planning to continue health outreach annually as the Move Mountains Medical Mission to provide free medical, dental, and vision services to patients in Wise and surrounding regions.”
Tyson said in the interview that the transition to have the Health Wagon take the lead on the annual free clinic has been in the works for a number of years.
“It’s a good thing,” she said, because RAM will be able to focus on more underserved communities.