People camp out for access to free medical care

Terry O. Jay was disappointed he wasn't able to get a sore tooth looked at Saturday when volunteers from Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps came to Signal Mountain Middle/High School, but he was happy to receive a free eye exam and glasses.

Jay, of Chattanooga, said he came to the clinic to have a bad tooth extracted. However, as he was in line, clinic organizers announced they could take no more dental patients Saturday.

"I'll try again in the morning for the (tooth) extraction," Jay said. "I got my eyes examined, and they told me to come back in an hour for my glasses. Overall this is a very good service."

RAM, a nonprofit organization started in 1985, is dedicated to providing free dental, vision and medical care. The organization travels throughout the country and around the world providing assistance.

Ron Brewer, state director for the nonprofit group, said dentists, doctors, optometrists and students from 10 states volunteered their time to work at the clinic this weekend.

"Ninty-five percent of our work is dental and vision," Brewer said. "Some people may have medical insurance but that often doesn't cover vision and dental."

Brewer said when he arrived at the school Friday at 2 p.m., people were already lining up. Many camped out overnight to make sure they were at the head of the line.

And as of 10:30 a.m. Saturday, 376 patients had signed in, he said. The organization expects about 300 people today. Last year, volunteers saw 387 patients over the two-day event at Lone Oak Community Center.

Just as volunteers were busy inside caring for patients' medical, vision and dental needs, Kendall Harrison and his crew were busy outside of the school serving food and drinks. Harrison is a youth minister at Signal Mountain Church of Christ.

Young men from the church were out at 4:30 a.m. Saturday serving coffee to those in line. By noon, the youth group had served around 300 hot dogs and gallons of coffee, tea and lemonade.

"We realized the people who were here all night would be hungry," Harrison said.

Contact Jeremy Belk at or 423-757-6345.