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Sun Jun 23, 2019, 11:52 AM

'Urgent needs from head to toe': This clinic had two days to fix a lifetime of needs [View all]


‘Urgent needs from head to toe’: This clinic had two days to fix a lifetime of needs
By Eli Saslow
June 22 at 7:09 PM

CLEVELAND, TENN. — They were told to arrive early if they wanted to see a doctor, so Lisa and Stevie Crider left their apartment in rural Tennessee almost 24 hours before the temporary medical clinic was scheduled to open. They packed a plastic bag with what had become their daily essentials after 21 years of marriage: An ice pack for his recurring chest pain. Tylenol for her swollen feet. Peroxide for the abscess in his mouth. Gatorade for her low blood sugar and chronic dehydration.

They took a bus into the center of Cleveland, Tenn., a manufacturing town of 42,000, and slept for a few hours at a budget motel. Then they awoke in the middle of the night and walked toward the first-come, first-served clinic, bringing along a referral from a social worker for what they hoped would be their first doctor’s checkup in more than four years.

“Urgent needs from head to toe,” the social worker had written. “Lacking primary care and basic medication. They have fallen into the gap.”

Only when Stevie and Lisa arrived at the clinic a little after 2 a.m. did it occur to them how large that medical gap has become in parts of rural America. Dozens of people were sprawled out in sleeping bags on the asphalt parking lot. Others had pitched tents on an adjacent lawn. The lot was already filled with more than 300 cars from all over the rural South, where a growing number of people in medical distress wait for hours at emergency clinics in order to receive basic primary care. Tennessee has lost 14 percent of its rural physicians and 18 percent of its rural hospitals in the past decade, leaving an estimated 2.5 million residents with insufficient access to medical care. The federal government now estimates that a record 50 million rural Americans live in what it calls "health care shortage areas," where the number of hospitals, family doctors, surgeons and paramedics has declined to 20-year lows.

Although the Remote Area Medical free clinic was not taking patients until 6 a.m., nearly 300 people had already lined up in front of Cleveland High School in Tennessee in the early hours of June 1. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Scores of patients and dentists pair up at the Remote Area Medical free clinic in Knoxville, Tenn., in February. The all-volunteer group delivers medical, dental and vision care services in underserved, isolated or impoverished communities around the country and world. To date they’ve treated 785,000 people. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Some of the hundreds of people in dire need of care wait in a parking lot for 12 hours in below-freezing temperatures for a chance to be seen in Knoxville in February. Tickets were handed out first come, first served. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

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