It is being offered by the Remote Area Medical Foundation (RAM) and the program filled up quickly Thursday. The problem was not the turnout of patients. Instead, it was the lack of doctors that forced them to close down early.
At 3:30 Thursday morning, volunteers handed out 400 numbers to people looking for a free health exam. Some of them camped out for their spot in line. "It's a long wait. It's cold, but it's worth it," one man told ABC7. By 9:00, the clinic was full. "I'm shocked because I came all the way from Napa. I didn't expect it to be closed for the day," Kenneth Profit said.
The problem is not space or lack of equipment. There are plenty of empty dental chairs set up inside the Oakland Coliseum. The issue is finding enough dentists and eye doctors. "We don't have the number of volunteers today that we would hope to have," RAM founder Stan Brock said.
They recognize it is tough to volunteer on a weekday and they do expect more volunteers to show up over the weekend. "Please come and help. Very, very rewarding. We need the help. They need the help, but I also understand the economies of running a dental practice too," oral surgeon Russ Webb said.
The patients who did make it inside are not focusing on the empty chairs. "I give the dentists a lot of credit for volunteering their time because it is hard. They have to pay their bills too and the fact that they'd volunteer, everybody appreciates it," Betty Studdard said. The free dental and eye exams are the biggest draw, with tooth extractions being the biggest need. And, some of the exams turn out to be lifesaving. "Every once in a while, we'll see somebody that's got either early stage oral cancer or in some cases, later stage. The big issue there is if we can catch it early," Webb said.
College student Miguel Hernandez has a part-time job, no dental insurance, and wisdom that need to come out, a $1,000 procedure anywhere else. Hernandez arrived outside the Oakland Coliseum at 1 a.m. and he was not the first in line. "I got here at 1 a.m., I waited in line in the cold and got my ticket. I was number 278," Hernandez said.
Ann Dukes, R.N., is a manager at Kaiser Hayward, but on Thursday, she was doing triage. "When I'm at Kaiser I'm supervising, not touching per se. Here is hands-on," Dukes said. When asked what kind of satisfaction did that give her, she said, "A lot more than supervising."
Hollister oral surgeon Terry Slaughter, M.D., says he's seeing patients with facial and dental infections. "Some of them are diabetics or have other serious health problems that an infection in their mouth is a bad complication for that sort of patient."
"Nobody has jobs anymore, it's really hard to get a job and nobody has any money, so this is something that's kind of key for a lot of people," said Raymond Lim, who is unemployed.
Founder Stan Brock says RAM has helped more than a million patients over a couple decades; he's not worried about abuse of the no-questions system. "The percentage of people that should not be here, those that really could afford, is very, vey, very small," said Brock. "We don't ask any questions. The only question we ask is, 'Where does it hurt?' and then try and fix it."
People who were turned away Thursday morning were not given numbers for Friday. Patients have to be on-site at 3:30 a.m. Friday to receive a number.
If you are a dentist, eye doctor, or optician who would like to help over the next three days, call (916) 749-4170.