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Nonprofit offers free summer health care clinic in Philadelphia

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(The Center Square) – As summer approaches, some Pennsylvania communities can expect to see free health care clinics popping up in their neighborhoods.

A nonprofit group aims to reach people who may otherwise not receive care.

“We understand we’re not the solution,” said Brad Hutchins of the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. “But we are a safety net for individuals who do fall in the cracks, so to speak, that they do have a way to receive care.”

RAM, based near Knoxville, Tenn., and created in 1985, runs clinics across the United States – almost 100 for 2024, Hutchins said. Most of their work centers on communities in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Their first foray in Pennsylvania was a visit to Philadelphia in April 2022 when they treated 449 patients. They’ll return to the commonwealth’s largest city on Aug. 24-25 to set up a clinic at the Mariana Bracetti Academy. They also plan clinics in Sharon on June 8-9, Scranton on Aug. 2-4, Erie on Sept. 7-8, and Allentown on Oct. 19-20.

“We don’t provide any service that we can’t offer follow-up care or service for,” Hutchins said. “We challenge the community host group to identify follow-up care resources. That’s one thing that we don’t want to do: identify a problem without some sort of solution. It’s an opportunity to reintroduce people back into communal health care with referrals and follow-up care.”

Like most states, Pennsylvania’s health care system is the target of much criticism. Legislators have called access in the commonwealth a crisis and nurse practitioners, lobbying to expand their scope of independent practice, have said access is “still in the dark ages.”

Proposed rules for nursing home staffing standards have featured in the state’s U.S. Senate election, and a lack of access has been blamed on stubborn worker shortages. Rural health care providers, too, have struggled to find financial stability.

On top of those problems, government-provided health coverage like Medicaid has swelled to eat up much of the state budget, outpacing other states nationwide.

But, for volunteer efforts like RAM’s free clinics, those problems haven’t undercut them.

“In Pennsylvania, I’ve not ran into any barriers that put the operation at risk or made it challenging to the point where we weren’t able to go and serve in any capacity,” Hutchins said. “Licensure is one of our main barriers that we typically encounter. But my experience with Pennsylvania, each area that I’ve went to, the community stepped up and was a big part of coming, helping out, and serving – it alleviated a lot of those challenges.”

RAM clinics look to find the people left behind, who have fallen through the cracks in the health care system, Hutchins said. RAM doesn’t require payments from any patients nor demand identification. Though services vary based on event, he said the Philadelphia clinic will offer free dental, vision, and general medical care.

RAM is seeking local volunteers who can help provide medical care or serve in non-medical roles as general support staff.

“It makes me thankful we have the opportunity to be present and visit Philadelphia, even if it’s for a short time, one or two days – it’s still an opportunity that people have somewhere that they can go,” Hutchins said.