RAM fills in gaps where America's healthcare system falls short

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Nov 2, 2019 at 10:51 PM

Marina Vicente is among an estimated 40 million Americans who either can’t afford or access health care.

Vicente’s case, however, is complicated.

A native of Guatemala, Vicente speaks no English, which is why she has to bring her son with her to translate for her. At Gray’s Remote Area Medical clinic, however, that wasn’t a problem thanks to RAM, East Tennessee State University’s Dr. Felipe Fiuza and his Language and Culture Resource Center students, who are working as translators during the three-day clinic.

“It’s very important (to have interpreters here), because I didn’t know if there would be anyone, which is why I brought my son,” Vicente said through an interpreter.

Vicente, who now lives in Johnson City, has been having issues with one of her eyes after having a tumor removed, and began her wait to see an optometrist Saturday at 4 a.m. at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.

“It’s important (to have these events) because I can’t afford regular healthcare,” Vicente said. 

Kate Hanley, a freshman at ETSU who was raised in the Dominican Republic, moved back to the United States in late October and got involved as an interpreter almost immediately.

“Interpreters are always in short (supply), but are very heavily needed,” Hanley said. “If you can’t communicate with someone, then you can’t help them.”

And though RAM’s volunteers love to help and make an impact on the lives of people who need it the most, for some, it’s upsetting to see just how many people need and depend on events like RAM clinics for basic health care. 

“We love planning it and we love that we can come out here, help people and change some of their lives, but at the same time we’re sad that there’s not resources they can reach out to so they have to wait for a RAM clinic to come,” said clinic coordinator Loni Maughan.

Mary Anne Comparoni, a registered nurse from Kentucky serving as the triage supervisor, has a simple way of looking at it.

“From a nursing standpoint, we just need to take better care of our people — and I don’t care who our people are,” Comparoni said. “As long as they’re in the United States they’re our people.”

The clinic’s final day is on Sunday, with ticketing beginning at 3 a.m., and gates opening at 6 a.m., with no ID required for treatment.

On Friday and through the early hours of Saturday, the Gray clinic served more than 518 people, providing $138,987 of free care. For more information or to volunteer, visit www.ramusa.org.

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