Manatee’s first totally free Remote Area Medical clinic last year drew 800 people on opening day en route to a two-day total of about 1,600, according to RAM founder Stan Brock.
But a matching crush of people didn’t materialize on Friday, this year’s opening day of RAM’s 836th clinic in the United States.
By the 4 p.m. clinic closing time on Friday, RAM had 315 patients seeking dental, medical and vision care come through the doors of Manatee Technical College on State Road 70, said Jeffery Eastman, RAM’s chief executive officer.
But Eastman said Friday being a work day makes a huge difference when it comes to RAM clients.
“Our patients don’t get Fridays off,” Eastman said. “They are the person working at the convenience store or daycare center. They are at a hotel or in fields. They can’t get Friday off. That total, 315, is a really good, solid Friday number. I’m sure we will build on that Saturday and Sunday.”
Several volunteer optometrists failed to attend Friday’s opening day, Eastman said.
Eastman predicts if RAM gets some optometrists and ophthalmologists Saturday and Sunday, Manatee should break 2,000 attendance over the next two days.
“We had one optometrist and two people doing refracting and that falls back to Friday being an office day for those pros,” Eastman said. “We still have a definite need for optometrists and ophthalmologists, but we were able to take care of every person who signed up for glasses.”
“We’ve got the equipment and supplies,” Eastman added.
The three-day clinic continues 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Parking lot not too crazy on opening day
The way RAM works is that volunteers direct patients who drive into the Manatee Technical College parking lot to parking spaces that correspond to numbers.
At 3 a.m. sharp Friday, volunteers tapped on the window of the car in space No. 1, whose occupants were dozing.
That car belonged to Bradenton’s Dolores Morecroft and her mother, Marguerite Matthews. The pair had claimed the coveted No. 1 parking space by arriving at 3 p.m. Thursday for the clinic that wouldn’t start for 15 hours.
“Played poker on my phone,” Morecroft said with a laugh when asked how she spent the time.
Like most of the roughly 200 people who slept over in their cars Thursday night or sat in folding chairs in their designated parking spaces, huddled in the dark with blankets, Morecroft and her mother both wanted desperately to be seen by a dentist.
“It’s financial,” said Matthews, who hadn’t been to the dentist for four years. “Being on a fixed income.”
“I haven’t been to the dentist in a while and I really needed it,” Morecroft said. “I read about RAM in the Herald and I decided not to put it off, to just get ’er done.”
‘Red Shirts’ make clinic go
Parrish’s Alida Ramos-Colone, a student in MTC’s practical nursing program and one of 400 volunteers, brought her twin sons, Zach and Nick, 14, Palmetto High School freshmen, to work registration.
“We were busy constantly,” Ramos-Colone said. “Everything went smoothly. The patients were happy and no one complained when the printers went down.”
Zach and Nick got a little overwhelmed with all the typing and ended up being water boys for staff and patients, their mom said.
“They thought it was great and had a good time,” Ramos-Colone said. “What touched me the most was a young man in about his 20s talking to the volunteer next to me about being in a drug program, and his difficulty in getting health care.”
Jacki Dezelski of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, who worked intake at the front door, got emotional telling the story of a woman who came in from the dark parking lot teary and anxious.
“She had some dental problems and had been unsuccessful for months trying to get help,” Dezekski said. “I saw her several hours later and she was crying and gave me a hug and I asked, ‘Did it not go well?’ She said she was crying out of gratitude. She had eight teeth extracted on Friday and she was so grateful that she plans to volunteer next year.”
Veteran gets his wish fulfilled
Also at the clinic to get needed dental care was U.S. Army veteran Jerry Nelson.
Nelson, 67, was in discomfort due to several loose teeth, some teeth that had cavities and several teeth that needed pulling, so he drove to Manatee Technical College at 3 a.m Friday.
He claimed ticket No. 167 to get free dental care.
A retired salesman who now works as a crossing guard for the city of Bradenton, Nelson didn’t have the money to go to a dentist.
But he was seen for free Friday.
“I’m grateful to the doctors who come out and the volunteers,” Nelson said.
Nelson served his country in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, but he would have to be 100 percent disabled in order to get dental from the federal government, he said.
If you go:
- What: Remote Area Medical free family health clinic
- When: 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. to noon Sunday
- Where: Manatee Technical College, 6305 State Road 70 E., Bradenton
- Admission: The clinics are first-come, first-served with tickets handed out in the parking lot of Manatee Technical College at 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday