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My Weekend Volunteering at the Wise County Free Clinic

August 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Firm News

By Michael H. Cook

On the weekend of July 20 – 22, I joined a number of people from the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (“DMAS”) in traveling to Wise County Virginia to volunteer for the annual free clinic that is offered in that County.  Our group was led by the Director of DMAS, Jennifer Lee, MD, who is trained as and ER physician.  As background, DMAS is the State agency that administers the Medicaid program in Virginia, and I was appointed several years ago by Governor McAuliffe to the Board that advises DMAS.

The Wise County free clinic offers a once a year opportunity for people in Wise and surrounding counties and states to obtain free medical, dental, vision care, PT and radiology, as well as to receive free food and clothing.  The clinic is held outside in a Fair Ground, although certain dental services, such as dentures, were provided at another proximate offsite location, and resembles what I would imagine a MASH unit, to look like.

A significant number of dentists and dental students and medical and medical students were perhaps the most important volunteers.  In the past, Ralph Northam, Virginia’s current Governor and a pediatric neurologist, has also volunteered and this year visited clinic.  The remainder of us volunteered in such capacities as “runners” – individuals who make sure that patients are appropriately moved through the process and also to assist in delivering the free food to patients who are awaiting services and do not wish to lose their place in the cue, staff to make corrective lenses and fit them into optical frames that are offered on that date, preparation and delivery of snack and meals to people at the clinic and volunteers, and frankly, anything else that the clinic needs.

As a volunteer, I had the opportunity, not only to assist, but also to meet a number of people who were having multiple dental and medical needs attended.  These people by and large had many needs but also a stoicism and gratitude for the assistance that they were receiving that was both heart-warming and tragic.  I cannot tell you the number of people who I escorted to the dental tent who were facing the need to extract all of their remaining teeth.  It is a tragedy that a country such as ours should never allow to occur.

There is also silver lining here.  The Virginia legislature recently voted to expand the Medicaid program effective January 1, 2019.  Virginia’s Medicaid program does not cover adult dental care, and many medical needs are related to the lack of adequate dental care.  However, there is hope that the expansion will enable a number of folks who have needed to rely on the Wise County free clinic, and thus avoid waiting at least a year (and sometimes many years since the clinic cannot serve everyone who presents), to receive medical care on a regular basis throughout the year.

The importance of the expansion to these folks is best demonstrated by the fact that as part of service that weekend, the DMAS contingent also offered outreach to alert the attendees of the advent of the expansion on January 1.  The receptiveness of the patients can only be described as overwhelming.

I was privileged to join a group of committed individuals from DMAS who gave up their weekend and traveled at their own expense to assist.  I was even more privileged to be able participate and assist in the delivery of care to so many needy folks.  I can only hope that at some point in my life time, this becomes obsolete and that routine medical and dental care becomes accessible for everyone.

Healthcare AttorneyMichael Cook is a Partner and Co-chair of the Health Care Group at Liles Parker PLLC.  Mr. Cook has extensive experience in representing providers and suppliers of all types, including home and personal, and home health, agencies in regulatory, compliance, policy, and business matters throughout the country.  Mr. Cook also serves on the Board of the agency that advises Virginia’s Medicaid program. Anyone interested in discussing the material presented in this article should contact Michael Cook at 202-298-8750 or mcook@lilesparker.com

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