Donald Rose has no teeth, but that’s not his biggest problem. A camouflage hat droops over his ancient, wire-framed glasses. He’s only 43, but he looks much older.
I met him one day in October as he sat on a tan metal folding chair
in the hallway of Riverview School, one of the few schools—few
buildings, really—in the coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia. That day
it was the site of a free clinic, the Remote Area Medical. Rose was there to get new glasses—he’s on Medicare, which doesn’t cover most vision services.
Remote Area Medical was founded in 1985 by Stan Brock, a 79-year-old
Brit who wears a tan Air-Force-style uniform and formerly hosted a
nature TV show called Wild Kingdom. Even after he spent time in
the wilds of Guyana, Brock came to the conclusion that poor Americans
needed access to medical care about as badly as the Guyanese did. Now
Remote Area Medical holds 20 or so packed clinics all over the country
each year, providing free checkups and services to low-income families
who pour in from around the region.
When I pulled into the school parking lot, someone was sleeping in
the small yellow car in the next space, fast-food wrappers spread out on
the dashboard. Inside, the clinic’s patrons looked more or less
able-bodied. Most of the women were overweight, and the majority of the
people I talked to were missing some of their teeth. But they were
walking and talking, or shuffling patiently along the beige halls as
they waited for their names to be called. There weren’t a lot of
crutches and wheelchairs.