What’s the Hottest Summer Tour? Remote Area Medical!

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Dude, you shoulda been there! People were lined up overnight just to get inside. Some people showed up day after day. It was amazing. Craziest of all—there was no charge to get in.

Actually, it’s still going on right now: Remote Area Medical, a volunteer outfit that supplies free medical, dental, and optical services to all comers, is in the midst of its first visit to a major metropolitan area in the U.S., at the Forum in Los Angeles, from August 11 to 18.

On the first day, as the NY Times reported, 1,500 came through the arena doors—too many for the medical professionals to handle. Hundreds of patients had to return the following day, or simply camp out overnight:

On Tuesday, volunteers provided 1,448 services to about 600 patients, including 95 tooth extractions, 470 fillings, 140 pairs of eyeglasses, 96 Pap smears and 93 tuberculosis tests, the organizers said. Hundreds of volunteer doctors, dentists, optometrists, nurses and others are expected to serve 8,000 patients by the end of the eight days.

For those willing to endure the long waits, the arena was like a magical medical kingdom, where everything was possible once a person got through the door. Mike Bettis, who runs security for a nightclub in Hollywood, and his fiancée, Lourie Alexander, who cleans homes, said they usually went on Craigslist, exchanging a home cleaning for a dermatology appointment.

Aha, bartering for health care, where have I heard that before?

As the LA Times reported, the MTA had to extend service on its bus lines because of overwhelming demand to get to the Forum. And, as an LA Times editorial says:

The scene makes a compelling case for a healthcare overhaul, putting a human face on the dry statistics about uninsured and underinsured Americans. People started lining up Monday for a chance to be treated Tuesday by volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and other healthcare providers. About 1,500 people were seen that first day; after hundreds more camped out overnight, the clinic ran at full capacity again on Wednesday. It’s scheduled to stay eight days before heading to its next stop, a reservation in Utah.

The turnout in Inglewood was huge despite the lack of publicity about the clinic, indicating how great the need is for more primary care. These are the people whose first stop for treatment tends to be the emergency room, often after a routine problem has festered long enough to become a complex (and expensive) one. Expanding health insurance to cover this group wouldn’t be cheap, but it’s a prerequisite to the changes in delivery and payment that will help improve care and control costs.

Remote Area Medical’s experience here also illustrates one of the best features of our healthcare system: the humanitarianism of its professionals. But unless the system is reformed to bring basic healthcare services to all Americans, far too many will continue to depend on the kindness of strangers.