Free Medical Care Draws Thousands
Weekend Clinic Serves Ex-Miners, Others in Southwestern Va.
By Sarah Park
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 25, 2004; Page C05
Thousands of people in the coal mining country of southwestern Virginia waited up to eight hours through storms and muggy heat this weekend to get free medical attention from volunteers gathered at a county fairground.
At least 73 people slept in cars overnight, and a handful pitched tents around the fairground in anticipation of the long lines, said Tony Roberts, 49, a Wise County resident who organized 202 Lions Club volunteers. More than 800 volunteers ran the clinic, sponsored in part by the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps.
On Friday alone, Terry Dickinson, 62, of Richmond and nearly 60 other volunteer dentists extracted about 1,300 teeth at the fifth annual free comprehensive health screening at the Wise County Fairgrounds. They also completed about 550 fillings and 125 teeth cleanings that day.
"They look at their teeth fatalistically," Dickinson said of the clients in a telephone interview. Many people who came to the clinic lack health insurance and had never visited a dentist before.
"Their dad, grandfather, uncle all lost their teeth," said Dickinson, executive director of the Virginia Dental Association. "That's what happens to you. That's just life."
About 3,600 people received medical attention, including vision and hearing screenings, Pap smears and electrocardiograms at the annual clinic, which began at 6 a.m. Friday and ends this afternoon.
"It's a fairground that would ordinarily have chickens or cages or pies or jars of jam," said Claudette Dalton, an anesthesiologist at University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville and medical coordinator of the clinic.
Although a few children came to the clinic, most patients were adults or senior citizens who cannot afford medical care from a local provider.
Volunteers who interviewed patients said many of them are former miners who took positions as part-time clerks at Wal-Mart and other local businesses after mine jobs disappeared.
Some volunteers who have participated in medical missions in developing nations compared the area's health profile with what they have seen in the world's poorest countries.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company