Experts say our nation's economy is on the slow road toward recovery, but healthcare may not be keeping the same pace.
Organizers say this year's Remote Area Medical clinics are as packed as ever. In fact, they say their numbers are increasing.
"The economy is on the mend, it is picking up, but still you have folks who are unable to secure insurance," said Ron Brewer, director of RAM's Rural AMerica program. "So companies that are hiring, are hiring, and people have insurance, but the policy of dental and vision is an add-on expense that most folks yet cannot afford."
RAM will be hosting its 668th health expedition at Lincoln Memorial University in Claiborne County this weekend, and organizers are expecting a crowd of about 1,000 people spread over the two-day clinic.
Volunteers will offer free medical, dental and vision care to patients. Veterinary services will be available, too.
"I'm ready to just jump in wherever I'm needed, wherever I can help and just kind of get a hands-on experience about what RAM does and what RAM's about and being able to help people that can't access this on their own," said Kelsey Edwards, an LMU student studying biology.
Edwards is a first-time volunteer and says she's hoping to carry this weekend's experience with her throughout her medical career.
And, there's a good chance RAM will still be needed then.
"I wish we had a healthcare program that could take care of them and RAM didn't exist. I think we'd all be happy," Brewer said. "But we're here, we want to see them, and we'll continue taking care of them."
Organizers say the parking lot will open at midnight, and they'll start handing out numbers at 3:30 a.m. Doors will open promptly at 6 a.m. They'll stick to the same schedule ahead of Sunday's clinic.
Organizers say patients should prepare for a lot of waiting and should bring water, snacks and perhaps lawn chairs.