After Remote Area Medical announced it’s ending its annual outreach in Wise County, RAM’s founding partner in the event has regrouped and will continue service next year as Move Mountains Medical Missions.

The Health Wagon said in a July 13 announcement it will collaborate with the Virginia Dental Association Foundation’s Mission of Mercy project to provide dental care. The Move Mountains event will be held at the Wise County Fairgrounds and the Mission of Mercy dental clinic will be held simultaneously at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise’s Convocation Center.

RAM announced its decision to pull out of Wise County on July 12, the same day the MOM dental clinic opened this year in Wise.

RAM and MOM were at odds last year after the dental foundation concluded it needed to move its clinic indoors but the late RAM founder Stan Brock resisted those efforts and competing dental services were provided at both the fairgrounds and the convocation center.

Also complicating matters that year was the date — the same as the town of Wise’s big Chillin and Grillin event, including a nationally recognized barbecue competition, which unfolds this weekend.

The health clinic dates announced for 2020 — July 17-19 — also conflict with Chillin and Grillin, which plans its date around other barbecue contests. Asked if they had collaborated with Chillin and Grillin organizers, The Health Wagon responded it would discuss the matter at a meeting Wednesday. The dental foundation could not be reached for comment.

Looking toward next year, The Health Wagon announcement said it hopes to expand free medical, dental and vision care, with “stronger access to specialty and diagnostic health care services. The new health outreach will likely include longtime founding partner The Lions Club.”

Dr. Teresa Tyson, executive director of The Health Wagon, said her organization and the region’s residents “are forever indebted to Stan Brock and the RAM organization, for they have helped us elevate the health care of an entire region over the past 20 years. We are honored to have worked with RAM and all the incredible partners who have made the largest health outreach of its kind in the nation possible year after year. This is a time of transition and The Health Wagon is so excited about what the future holds.”

In 1999, Brock, Tyson and Sister Bernie Kenny identified a need for medical, dental and vision services for medically underserved patients in Southwest Virginia. The clinic that resulted has drawn thousands of volunteers who have provided care to tens of thousands of patients in the region over the course of two decades, The Health Wagon noted.

But in an announcement last week, RAM said The Health Wagon and other organizations “have built infrastructure and capacity around eye, dental, and medical resources in the Wise, Virginia community. Because of this, and because of RAM increasing its number of clinics in surrounding areas, the number of patients served at the Wise . . . clinic has declined year-to-year over the past several years. At the same time, RAM continues to receive dozens of clinic requests from communities across the country that, due to capacity, the organization is unable to fulfill.”

RAM Chief Executive Officer Jeff Eastman said in the announcement: “We feel it is the best use of RAM’s time and resources to focus on areas that lack the excellent health care that The Health Wagon, Mission of Mercy, and other organizations are able to provide in Wise County. We are honored to have worked with The Health Wagon and Mission of Mercy in the past and to have served the Wise community.”

RAM intends to focus its limited resources on other areas with greater need, the organization said.

People who have been volunteering at the Wise clinic are invited to volunteer at other Remote Area Medical clinics. More information about RAM’s clinics and about volunteering at RAM’s clinics is available at ramusa.org.

Volunteers who are interested in continuing to volunteer with The Health Wagon at the 2020 health outreach event, Move Mountains Medical Mission, and future outreach events are asked call 276/328-8850 as soon as possible to be added to the volunteer system.

Friday’s Health Wagon announcement included comments of support from Gov. Ralph Northam and from the president of the Virginia Dental Association Foundation board.

“I’m grateful to RAM for their many years of service, and I’m happy that Heath Wagon, Mission of Mercy and other committed partners have agreed to continue providing free healthcare and dental care to the medically underserved of Appalachia,” said Gov. Northam. “These wonderful service organizations provide much-needed health and dental services to thousands of our fellow citizens, and they are deserving of our thanks and support.”

Board President Barry Isringhausen said the Virginia Dental Association Foundation, is proud of its 20-year heritage of cooperation among the many groups that have provided free health care in Southwest Virginia. “We are excited about partnering with The Health Wagon and other organizations to continue providing free medical and dental care at events in Southwest Virginia – particularly Wise – in the coming years. Wise is where it all began so many years ago, and we welcome perpetuating the visions of several public altruistic pioneers to improve the lives of people in the region.”

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