Uncertainties surrounding the course of the COVID-19 pandemic have raised concerns about the feasibility of this year’s Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic at the Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray.

Citing a need for more local participation, Project Access, the nonprofit host group for the annual RAM, is surveying area medical, dental and vision care providers to gauge their interest in volunteering.

Set for Nov. 5-7, the three-day clinic provides free care to hundreds of people from across the region and several surrounding states who have difficulty accessing health care. For the past four years, the clinic has served more than 750 people, with dental care being the greatest need.

Brooks Blair, executive director of Project Access, said the brief, online provider survey will help determine if the 2020 RAM can go forward.

“If we do not get much of a response, then we will have to cancel the RAM clinic and postpone until 2021,” she said. “Without this clinic, these folks will have to wait another year for these services. During that time, their health and well-being is likely to decline.”

To avoid a possible postponement, Project Access and its RAM planning committee are asking local dental, vision, and medical providers to take a short, online survey at www.projectaccesseasttn.org. The survey is six questions long and should take less than five minutes to complete.

“This will help us decide if we can host the clinic in 2020,” Blair said.

According to Blair, the Gray clinic has had very little participation from local providers over the years and instead relied heavily on students from East Tennessee State University and other medical, dental and vision schools and their preceptors.

Because of the pandemic, schools are altering their schedules and policies and RAM organizers are uncertain if any schools will participate this year. The possibility a second wave of COVID-19 infections that would cause the schools to be more leery of sending students out of state increases the need for local volunteers.

Without help from local providers, the clinic may be postponed until 2021. And at a time when many health fairs and clinics have already been postponed, Project Access fears a RAM postponement could be devastating to patients.

“So many other clinics have canceled, we really want to have ours,” Blair said. “Our goal is not to cancel or postpone. There is a great need and with COVID, many people have lost jobs and the need is even greater.

“We rely so heavily on the providers, particularly in vision and dental. If we don’t have these providers, we won’t have a successful clinic. The survey will tell us if we need to alter the RAM and what concerns the providers have. We hope to have the clinic and we’re relying on providers to tell us how they feel about participating.”

Blair noted the RAM is a fun opportunity to volunteer, echoing a sentiment that has been expressed by healthcare professionals from across the country who have come to Gray to take part in the event.

“We have wonderful providers, but we cannot do it without them,” she said.