Local optometrists and ophthalmologists answered the call to serve their community Saturday, and volunteered their services at the second day of the Manatee Remote Area Medical clinic.
Shortly before 9 a.m. Friday, the vision line had to be shut down when not enough volunteer optometrists and ophthalmologists showed up. But that was not the case when the clinic got underway Saturday.
Anthony Danna, 44, of Sarasota, walked up to a table filled with eyewear to choose his new frames. Making his selection, he looked into a mirror held by a volunteer, smiled his approval and moved along to the next table to complete the process.
“That was amazing,” Danna said. “It’s really awesome for everybody to donate their services.”
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Meanwhile, on the other side of the building his fiance was getting some much-needed dental work.
All tickets for treatment Saturday at the second Manatee RAM clinic at Manatee Technical College on State Road 70 were distributed before 9 a.m.
“We had people coming in as early as 5 p.m. yesterday for a ticket distribution that happened at 3 a.m., to make sure they were one of the first in line,” said Doug Wagner, executive director of MTC.
The morning had been running really smooth, he said, and he smiled as he spoke of the patients who were so excited to be getting free treatment. For volunteers this was also gratifying.
“The volunteers, all would say, they feel like they’ve contributed to the benefit of Manatee County,” Wagner said.
It took some 300 to 350 volunteers, including medical professionals, MTC students, elected officials and reserve deputies with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, to provide the free clinic Saturday.
Inside a waiting area for people needing dental work, Julie Farmer watched the dental chairs to assist patients waiting for an opening. The services were color-coded. People who needed fillings sat on one side, and those needing extractions sat on the other.
“They’ve gone without,” said Farmer, a children’s librarian for the Manatee County Public Library.
On Friday, Farmer said she saw many children come in at the RAM clinic as she helped with registration.
“At the end of the day I was at the vision lab,” Farmer said. “I saw a bunch of little kids who had gotten their glasses, and they were so happy to be able to see clearly.”
In addition to medical, dental and vision care, there was an education portion of the RAM clinic with many organizations assisting.
Irma Torres, 28, of Myakka City, smiled as she watched her daughters, ages 3 and 6, pose with Manatee County School District Superintendent Diana Greene, and their new books.
And she smiled, as did her girls, with newly cleaned teeth.
Torres had come to the RAM clinic last year and came back again to make sure she, her daughters and 12-year-old son got all their annual exams, she said in Spanish.
While the RAM clinic was able to treat 862 patients on Saturday and 315 people on Friday, they had supplies and equipment to be able to treat even more, according to Dr. Richard Conard, president of RAM’s Florida Division.
“We just need to expand to have more professionals,” Conard said. “I’m thrilled, there are many people getting care.”
Conard was stationed at the main entrance of MTC later in the morning with student volunteers, encouraging latecomers to come in and get the medical care still available. Without more professional volunteers, the clinic was limited to providing dental and vision care to the 600 who were given a ticket early that morning.
He hoped other professionals would be encouraged to come out and volunteer Sunday.
“With more professionals, I’m sure we have plenty of people needing those services,” Conard said.
RAM officials lamented that out-of-state medical professionals who could have helped were prevented from doing so by Florida state law.
“We had such a severe shortage of opticians, ophthalmologists, optical technicians and dentists that we had to turn away hundreds of patients on Veterans Day — including some veterans of military service,” said RAM founder Stan Brock in a press release.
“It was no way to treat veterans on Veterans Day, especially those who waited in their cars all night long to receive care. It broke our hearts, and we apologize again to these disappointed individuals — but Florida state law is the culprit.”
Florida state law forbids out-of-state doctors, dentists and vision professionals from crossing the state line to treat patients in Florida — even at free medical clinics like those sponsored by RAM, Brock said.
Brock said the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott should change Florida law when the legislature reconvenes in March.
Eleven other states have adopted versions of a Tennessee statute that allows credentialed health care professionals licensed in other states to take volunteer in free medical events like those sponsored by RAM.
“Volunteer-based free medical clinics like ours provide high-quality medical, dental and vision care to thousands of patients at zero taxpayer cost,” Brock said. “Restrictive laws like Florida’s only keep us from doing more to help.”
If you go:
▪ What: Remote Area Medical free family health clinic
▪ When: 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. Sunday