Maria Shriver Apologizes For Healthcare Need In California

RAM's Founder Stan Brock (left) and CA First Lady Maria Shriver (center) Photo: Dolores M. Bernal/NJP

LOS ANGELES — California’s First Lady Maria Shriver took a tour of the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Tuesday to see the thousands of people who had signed up to receive free medical care through the Remote Area Medical Foundation (RAM).

After learning that many of the patients at the event had not seen a doctor for 20 or 10 years and seeing the tired faces of those people waiting for care by volunteer medical doctors and nurses, Shriver apologized.

“I’m sorry that we have this need in this state and in this country,” Shriver said at a press conference. “I’m humbled by the people who have come out here today to volunteer their time.”

More than 6,000 people, many of them unemployed and the working poor, will receive medical, dental, and visual services at the sports arena until May 3. Los Angeles, where the unemployment rate is over 12 percent, is the epicenter of the uninsured with 2.2 million people lacking health coverage. But the state of California is also in big trouble, facing a $20 billion budget deficit this year.

Shriver stayed at the facilities for over an hour, greeting volunteers and patients. She told the that her husband, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was also aware of the great need of healthcare in the state of California, but that he would not be attending the event. “I will let him know about my day,” Shriver said.

Photo: Dolores M. Bernal/NJP

RAM’s Work

Remote Area Medical caught national attention after CBS’ 60 Minutes did a segment about their work in March 2008. RAM has visited rural and urban areas across the nation, providing free medical services, supplies, and medicine to those lacking insurance and to the under-insured. Funding comes from public donations.

British-born, Stan Brock, founded RAM in 1985 after living in the Amazon rainforest. His non-profit has helped hundreds of thousands of people get needed medical care. He recruits volunteer doctors, nurses and other professionals to set up remote health clinics where they are needed.

Thousands of people flock to get wristbands a day or two before the free clinic’s doors open. Lots of people get the wristbands, but many more don’t, due to capacity and staff limitations.

The healthcare crisis in America is what drives people to seek these free services according to Brock. RAM has set up these free healthcare clinics 601 times and the need will continue for a while longer.

Shriver believes that the recent Obama healthcare reform legislation that just passed in Washington is a step in the right direction. Brock agrees, and hopes that when the full law goes into effect in 2014, that it will include dental and visual care too.

Not Enough Volunteers

There have been a few free RAM healthcare clinics that had to be canceled because there weren’t enough medical volunteers to provide services. “We had to cancel the one in Florida,” Brock told the NJP.

In California, the need for medical volunteers has prompted legislators sympathetic to Brock’s cause to draft a law that would allow out-of-state doctors to come to California and volunteer. Maria Shriver says she supports the law. Right now, only Tennessee, where RAM is headquartered, is the only state in the nation that allows doctors from other parts of the country to enter the state to volunteer.

Watch the 60 Minutes segment about RAM:

RAM in Los Angeles

RAM had another free health clinic in 2009 at the Hollywood Forum in South Los Angeles. Many people were surprised to find that the services were free. This year, RAM expects to serve more patients, most of them are black and Latino.

“The need in California is like the need in places we’ve been,” Brock said. “This is just a bigger state.”

Jose Villargos had not seen a doctor in 15 years. He was already in line by dawn on Sunday to get a wristband. On Monday, Villargos was happy that he had gotten in. “I’m finally going to get seen by a doctor. I don’t know what medical problems I may have, I hope it’s nothing,” he said. “I’m just thankful for this.”

Many people wanting to be seen by RAM volunteers in Los Angeles camped outside of the sports arena on Saturday night to be the firsts in line on Sunday. Those people who came on Monday without their wristbands wanting to be seen were turned away, something that RAM volunteers find hard to do.


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