After 2-year delay, Gadsden to host RAM Clinic with free medical care; volunteers needed

Two years ago, the East Central Alabama Area Health Education Center sought out to bring a Remote Area Medical Clinic to Gadsden. “We were within two weeks of having this clinic when Gov. (Kay) Ivey shut the state down, so we had to table this,” Angela Anderson, ECAAHEC’s director, recalled. […]

Two years ago, the East Central Alabama Area Health Education Center sought out to bring a Remote Area Medical Clinic to Gadsden.

“We were within two weeks of having this clinic when Gov. (Kay) Ivey shut the state down, so we had to table this,” Angela Anderson, ECAAHEC’s director, recalled.

Now, what still will be Alabama’s first RAM Clinic is getting the green light, setting up at Gadsden City High School on April 22 to provide area residents with free medical, dental and vision care from April 23-24.

“We decided about a month ago to move forward with it. We reserved the weekend after Easter in RAM’s calendar,” Dr. Lew Mitchell, dental director for the local clinic, said. “We’ll have at least 50 dental chairs, with screenings and treatments all done the same day.”

As part of the clinic, several services will be provided, including screening for high blood pressure and diabetes, root canals, cavity fillings and vision services.

“We are called the Community Host Group, and we will be providing actual care to these people,” Anderson said. “We’re also offering women’s health, with plans to do as many repairs and treatments as humanly possible.”

Mitchell said RAM even has a mobile vision lab that will allow patients to receive vision care and their prescription frames on the same day —all completely free, with or without proof of insurance.

“The only limitation is that patients can only choose to go to either dental or vision along with medical. It takes too long for a patient to go to both in one day,” said Anderson. “However, these patients can also come back the next day and receive the other service they didn’t get the day before.”

RAM’s mission

RAM, based in Rockford, Tennessee, began in 1985 with the mission “to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free health care to those in need.” It has served 888,557 people through free clinics for medical, dental and vision care, with an estimated care value of $181,500,000.

“RAM was initially founded to serve as a provider of free medical care in remote areas of developing countries, such as Guyana, Mexico and Haiti,” it explained in a background media release, “Almost immediately after beginning operations, RAM began receiving requests to operate clinics in the United States. “

Logo for RAM

Logo for RAM

The first such clinic was held on May 9, 1992, in Sneedville, Tennessee.

Both Anderson and Mitchell, along with Dr. Tom Page, the local medical director for the clinic, became involved with the project in different ways, with Anderson and Mitchell having personal volunteer experience with the clinic in other areas.

“We were trying to come up with more ways to get students and physicians more aware of rural areas and our research brought us to the RAM clinics,” Anderson said. “We visited a RAM event and contacted them about getting one in Alabama, (to) which they said they had been trying to get one here for years.”

Mitchell added, “I volunteered to participate at a Mom’s Weekend in Pensacola, Florida, and absolutely loved it. I came back to Gadsden, where I go to church with Anderson, and after talking, we decided to go for it.”

Page became directly involved with the clinic before its original date after being personally asked to join the team.

“I was approached about 2 years ago by the late Joan Jones, who was the executive director of the Etowah County Free Clinic, about being the medical director for the local RAM clinic event,” he said. “I feel it is important as a physician to provide services to people who are otherwise underserved because of financial or other reasons.”

COVID precautions

Several changes have been made to keep the clinic safe from COVID-19, such as keeping dental chairs and all patients socially distant from one another. Temperature checks also will be required upon entry to the clinic, and patients will be doing most of their waiting in the car.

“We used to have them wait in sub-waiting and other areas, but now they will wait in their car until their number is pulled,” Anderson said. “Masks and gloves will be worn at all times, with sanitation mist being used after every visit.”

Mitchell said, “There’s a tent-like enclosure over every dental chair that separates them from one another.”

“I would kindly ask people to use some common sense when it comes to participating,” said Page. “If one is feeling sick or has symptoms of a fever, or other flu-like symptoms, let someone know sooner than later.”

The original 2020 date would not only have been the first clinic of its kind in Alabama, it would’ve been the largest clinic held by RAM.

“The original RAM event for 2020 was looking like it was going to be a huge event according to the figures we were dealing with. It could have possibly been the largest medical event in the state if it had been allowed to take place,” explained Page.

Anderson said the original date was expecting upward of 900 volunteers from local organizations. Now, organizers hope to have at least 400 volunteers, although only half that number is signed up at present.

“We don’t expect it to be that large again because of COVID hesitancy, although we are taking every effort to provide remedies for every COVID risk at every step of the clinic,” she said. “We also try to make sure they have no reason to leave during the day, because the clinic does start very early.”

Anderson said local organizations, such as churches and high school health clubs like HOSA, will help direct patients to each area and offer free grab-and-go meals to those working at the clinic.

“We are circling back to organizations that volunteered services and any local organizations that want to be involved are more than welcome to,” she said.

Page said, “I have been very impressed by the number of churches, schools, businesses, hospitals and individuals in our community who are offering to help in the way of food, financial support and especially prayer. Also impressive is the number of providers, nurses, dentists, ancillary medical personnel, law enforcement agencies and students of all levels of their studies who have offered to assist.”

Anderson said several medical students from CRNP programs, medical schools and student nurses at Gadsden State will be participating in triage and screenings of patients throughout the day.

Mitchell said dental students from UAB also will be in attendance under supervision of their professors, including himself.

“I teach a class up there once a week, so I’m going to be recruiting students for sure” he said. “We’ll have faculty members there as well so they can supervise the junior and senior dental students that will be doing work with assistance from the younger years. It’s been officially approved by UAB as an outside rotation, so they can get the hours they need to graduate.”

Anderson said, “We acquired a lot of funding from the area that we only touched in the beginning to pay for billboards to advertise the event in 2020. Most of the money will be going to get hotel rooms, primarily for our medical students coming into the area, so that they won’t have to drive back and forth.”

Volunteers ‘crucial’ to clinic’s success

She said that local volunteers are “crucial” to the success of the clinic, as RAM can only bring in so many of its people to keep things operational through tasks such as parking, hospitality, registration and patient navigation.

“RAM has no way of bringing enough people to the area for them to do it all themselves,” Anderson said. “We have to have the people. The volunteers are the core thing we need.”

All three emphasized the importance of Gadsden being able to host Alabama’s first RAM Clinic. Anderson said it would allow the area to be the “test subject” of the clinic to improve on it for the future.

“Our plan has always been the first group, but we don’t expect it to be in Etowah County each year. We want to be able to go in and train people so that RAM will be able to go to other areas, such as the City of Opelika,” she said. “We still get to be the first, which is great because it allows us to iron out the details and the logistics to make sure this will go as smoothly as possible for the next one.”

“It allows people in all fields of medicine to be part of something larger than themselves,” added Page, “Alabama has many areas in the state which are underserved as far as medical, dental and vision care is concerned.”

“I had always been a little embarrassed that Alabama had never had one of these,” Mitchell said. “But I’m glad that my city gets to be the first to have it. It’s going to take all of us to put this together.”

For more information on RAM Clinics, visit Those wanting to volunteer for the clinic can sign up online at

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Gadsden to host first RAM Clinic in Alabama, volunteers needed

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