Health Care and Wellness

RAM Event Offers Free Medical Services to Those in Need

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — On Saturday and Sunday, area residents in need of medical care can head to the Covelli Centre for free dental, vision, hearing and general examinations.

The two-day event is one of 80 held annually throughout the United States by Remote Area Medical, or RAM, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that operates mobile medical clinics to serve individuals who do not have access to or cannot afford a doctor. Individuals can receive services free of charge, no identification required.

It’s the brainchild of Stan Brock, who founded RAM in 1985 to conduct mission trips to third-world countries requesting services, says its chief operating officer, Chris Hall. In 1992, the organization received a request from a small town in Tennessee that was losing its local hospital. Since then, 90% of RAM’s operations are in the United States, Hall says.

“These services are for everyone who is in need and unable to get the services in other ways,” he says. “When people walk away from the event, they have their pain alleviated and they can smile knowing they had something provided at no cost to them.”

Available services include dental cleanings, fillings, extractions and X-rays; eye exams; eyeglass prescriptions and eyeglasses made on-site; women’s health services include mammograms and PAP; and general medical exams.

The parking lot opens at midnight and ticket distribution begins at 3 a.m. Saturday. Doors open at 6 a.m. with patients being served in the order they get their tickets, Hall says.

Hall expects the two-day event to serve 750 patients, he says. He encourages residents to arrive as early as possible, particularly for dental services, which make up 60% of patient requests, he says.

“Dental is a large request because typically they’re not covered for dental care and the pain is immediate,” Hall says.

Dr. Rudy Braydich agrees. While the rule of thumb is for patients to visit the dentist twice annually – four times annually if they have serious issues – dental care is “a very neglected area in a lot of people’s lives,” he says, particularly among those who can’t afford coverage.

“We have people who are able to be taken care of through state assistance, but there is that gap of people who are working, making anywhere from $10, $14, $16 dollars an hour who don’t have benefits with their job, and they’re stuck,” Braydich says.

Dental services make up 60% of patient requests, Chris Hall says.

People tend to put off regular preventive care, he continues. However, many dental diseases are “quiet diseases” that can build up over time. When the patient finally feels pain and comes in, “It’s already too late” for a quick fix, he says.

“It becomes a lot of investment to go ahead and have those things taken care of,” Braydich says.

It’s one of the reasons Braydich hosts its annual Free Dentistry Day as part of the global Dentistry from the Heart initiative. The event is scheduled for Oct. 4 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Braydich Dental office at 45 East Liberty St., Hubbard, where the practice will provide free care to the first 200 registered patients.

It will be a “great follow up from this weekend,” says Braydich, who will be on hand for the RAM event and will bring up to 10 volunteer dentists and oral hygienists with him, he says.

RAM events are staffed entirely by volunteers, which is one of the criteria for an area being selected for service, Hall says. The more volunteers and donations an area can court for an event, the better the chances of RAM justifying a request, he says. Events are fully supported by the public and funded by grants, donations and corporate sponsorships, he says.

“We try to make it as minimally a burden on the community as possible,” he says.

Since 1985, a corps of 135,000 volunteers has provided more than $135 million in health-care services to more than 785,000 individuals, according to a press release. The average value of care for each person is $322 at a cost of $90 to RAM for each patient.

Last year, RAM had more than 17,000 volunteers provide more than $15.3 million in services to 45,566 individuals, including 946 during an event in Ashtabula, reports Mark Norris, community host group lead for the Youngstown event. That number was nearly doubled this year, when the RAM event in Ashtabula drew some 1,650, he says.

Norris, CEO of Medical Records Services, Youngstown, volunteered at the Ashtabula event in 2018 for three days after learning about RAM and its mission, he says. He subsequently decided to drum up support for an event in Youngstown.

“I was driving back from that trip and I thought of Youngstown, where I’ve been for 30 years,” Norris says. “I thought Youngstown could use something like this. There’s so much of a need for people who are struggling here.”

According to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which compares the health of nearly all counties in the U.S., Ashtabula County ranked 68 out of 88 Ohio counties, Norris says.

Mahoning County ranked 67, “with triple the population density,” he says.

“There is a need,” Norris says. “And that need, with our health-care system, is increasing. People need more and more help.”

RAM’s Hall agrees, saying the increased need is evidenced by the 350-plus requests RAM receives annually. “You could close your eyes and throw a dart at a map of the United States, and anywhere the dart hits the need is there,” Hall says.

U.S. Census data shows that the poverty rate in Youngstown is 30.75%, well above the 12.7% national average, according to a release from RAM. Nearly 60% of children in the city live in poverty, compared to 23.6% nationally, and in many areas, one out of every six residents younger than 65 lacks health coverage.

Those metrics drove Norris to contact RAM to come to Youngstown, he says. For over a year, Norris worked to ensure the event would justify its cost of up to $34,000, some of which is offset by in-kind donations, such as food.

The event has been well received thus far by the community, including area first responders and Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Norris says. To assist residents who don’t have transportation, the Western Reserve Transit Authority is offering free rides on all of its fixed routes on Saturday, according to a statement from its executive director, Dean Harris.

A volunteer administers a flu vaccination during the Ashtabula event this year.

“Though WRTA riders going to any destination Saturday can take advantage of this offer, our primary goal is to make it easy for area individuals and families to get to the Remote Area Medical event taking place at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown that day,” Harris said.

More volunteers are needed – both medical and non – and food donations to feed the 350 volunteers, Norris says. But what the event really needs is patients to ensure the maximum number of people are treated for the investment.

“The more people we see, the more the cost goes down,” he says. “We’re preparing for 1,000 people per day.”

Connecting residents to the network of services they otherwise wouldn’t have known about is another goal of the event.

Dr. Sheryl Figliano, president and owner of the Centers for Hearing Care, is bringing a team of 35, including eight of the practice’s doctors of audiology and students from Kent State University and Akron University, she says. Norris contacted Figliano about participating in the RAM event which she agreed to, she says.

Being a part of the RAM event is important because it helps the community just as much as it helps the people receiving the services.

“It’s about keeping people gainfully employed who have these disabilities. If we keep them employed, we have less folks that are on public assistance,” she says. “This whole mission is a gift to Youngstown. And I sure hope that it’s supported both with local volunteers and people who come out who are in need.”

It also serves to raise awareness about the overall need in the area and reduce the stigma that comes along with it, she says. People who don’t have coverage are sometimes judged as being lazy, which isn’t the case, Figliano says.

“I have employees [and] friends all around this area, single moms, who don’t have dental coverage. Who don’t have vision coverage,” she says. “It’s almost as if people don’t want to believe that this is actually going to happen. That they can come in and leave with a pair of glasses.”

Figliano hopes the people her team helps during the RAM event also take part the annual event hosted by her nonprofit, the Hearing Missions Foundation. For more than 15 years, the nonprofit has worked locally and in other parts of the world to provide audiology services to those in need, serving about 220 annually, she says. Area residents can receive free services the first Saturday of every month at the Centers for Hearing Care Boardman office at 126 York Ave., she says.

For the last seven years, the nonprofit has organized a mission every December to provide free hearing aids to patients. The nonprofit sets up at Fellows Riverside Gardens at Mill Creek Park for the “hearing party” throughout the day, she says. The annual party serves up to 35 people annually, and to date has distributed more than 260 hearing aids, she says.

“It’s like hitting the lottery for them,” Figliano says. “They bring their family with them so it’s the first voice that they hear.”

This year, with the added exposure of the RAM event, Figliano hopes to serve up to 50 individuals.

“What we’re hoping is all the people who come to Covelli who have hearing tests can come to the December mission and get the free hearing aids,” she says.

Pictured above: A patient receives an eye exam during the RAM event in Ashtabula this year.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.