A patient selects frames after a free vision exam during one of Remote Area Medical’s pop-up clinics.

By Ashley Benkarski

COOKEVILLE, TN — Two nonprofits brought much-needed medical relief to Cookeville residents from March 20-21, providing $295,000 in free dental, vision and general medical services, one of the groups reported.

Remote Area Medical (RAM) and Upper Cumberland Community Host Group (CHG) held a free clinic at Cookeville High School. According to RAM 550 people were served, with 127 receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. 

RAM will hold another clinic in Morristown, Tenn., Sat. May 1-2.

RAM provides pop-up clinics to underserved and uninsured individuals who are geographically distanced from quality health care. Since its

A R.A.M. volunteer examines a patient in triage. Photos courtesy of R.A.M.

founding in 1985, more than 173,000 volunteers –comprised of licensed dental, vision, and medical professionals, as well as general support staff — delivered $174 million worth of free healthcare services. Since 2019, RAM has held clinics in 18 states as well as Guyana, Haiti, and the Bahamas. 

CHG includes local community members and students from Tennessee Tech University, including those from the nursing program.

“Cookeville has little in terms of medical, dental and vision care for the rural areas of the Upper Cumberlands, and many in the community are in need of care,” said CHG member Eric Hall. The last free RAM clinic there was in 2019.

During last year’s storms Cookeville and the surrounding area felt the brunt of the devastation as they continued east from Nashville across I-40 in the early hours of March 3, 2020. Nearly a week later the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Tennessee and wrought havoc on the economy.

The stage for calamity was set before the twin crises stunned the region. The Tennessee Hospital Association reported nine hospital closures since 2012, the second highest rate in the nation, and of the 95 counties in the state, 82 percent are rural.

The Census Bureau reported the poverty rate in Putnam County is about 16 percent with a population of over 80,000 residents. As of 2019 the median income was under $45,000. “It’s hard to conceptualize” the number of people in need, said Tiffani Carrasco, RAM’s Clinic Coordinator. Notably, Carrasco pointed out that Cookeville, Putnam County’s biggest city, has a severe shortage of options for dental care.

The expected number of patients was nearly half those served in previous clinics due to health and safety protocols for COVID-19. 

Carrasco said she was thankful for the volunteers, donors and community organizations that step in to help their communities come together and grow stronger through these events.

The next RAM clinic will be held May 1-2 at Walters State Community College, 500 S. Davy Crockett Parkway in Morristown.

RAM is also offering a free telehealth clinic from April 23-25.

Available Services

RAM said services available at its free clinic will include dental cleanings, dental fillings, dental extractions, dental x-rays, eye exams, glaucoma testing, eyeglass prescriptions, eyeglasses made on-site, women’s health exams, and general medical exams. No ID is required and patients will be seen on a first-come, first-served basis.

The patient parking lot will open no later than 12:01 a.m. Sat., May 1, and remain open. At arrival patients will be provided with additional information regarding clinic opening processes and next steps. 

In situations such as inclement weather, volunteer cancellations, or other circumstances outside of RAM’s control, the parking lot may open earlier or a smaller number of patients served. RAM encourages everyone seeking services, especially dental services, to arrive as early as possible.

Clinic doors open at 6 a.m. on Sat., May 1. This process will repeat on Sunday. 

Due to time constraints, patients should be prepared to choose between dental and vision services. Medical services are offered in addition to those services and free to every patient in attendance. Clinic closing time may vary based on each service area’s daily capacity. Please check RAM’s clinic FAQ page for more information, the organization said.

COVID-19 Safety Guidelines

RAM has incorporated and developed new disinfecting and safety processes. All patients will be required to wear a face covering and must undergo a COVID-19 screening before entering the clinic. New air flow, disinfecting processes, and capacity limitations have also been put in place to ensure the safety of patients, staff and volunteers.

For more information about volunteering at a RAM pop-up medical clinic, visit www.ramusa.org, call 865-579-1530 or email RAM’s Volunteer Manager Mary Brown at marybrown@ramusa.org.

To submit your county for RAM’s services, the organization’s website features a request form to do so.