A huge truck rolls up and, with military precision, people start unloading equipment for a mobile medical clinic. Outside, hundreds of people have been waiting hours in the hopes of scoring a ticket that entitles them to medical, dental and/or vision care. The people are mostly poor, living in a struggling economy. Somewhere in a developing country? Nope. This scene is taking place in the hills of Appalachia, just outside Knoxville Tennessee.
Remote Area Medical started when founder Stan Brock lived with Indian tribes in the Amazon and was horrified by their isolation from good medical care. He started Remote Area Medical in 1985 to address their needs. However, as the organization has recognized the needs in the US, it has evolved to spend 60% of its time delivering health services to Americans who don't have access.
The film raises many questions. How can the richest country in the world leave so many behind in terms of healthcare? The filmmakers deliberately avoid politicizing the issues. "That would have been a different film", they say. It might also have alienated people on whom RAM depends for support. In the Q&A, we were told that these people, staunch Republicans all, complain "Why can't we get rid of this Obamacare and get something in place like the Canadian system?", failing to see a connection between their voting patterns and health care issues in the US.
It seemed to me that there was room for creativity in attempting some preventative health education in these locations. The people waiting in the parking, often camping overnight, were often sitting in pretty spiffy big pick-up trucks and SUVs. Perhaps allocating some of their scarce money to a healthier lifestyle might have a huge payoff. As we saw people streaming by whose only acquaintance with dental care was getting teeth pulled (and there were gory shots of piles of rotted, bleeding teeth from the day's work), I couldn't help wondering if adding an educational element to RAM's activities might have a huge payback. Some creative education techniques, mandatory before you entered for treatment, might lead to better dental hygiene. It might also have some impact on the woman who received news about a spot on her lung by lighting up a comforting cigarette.
It was a sad movie for a Canadian. It should be a shocking movie for any American.