Refugees in Appalachia


People awaiting a number to enter the Remote Area Medical event at the Wise County Fairgrounds, Wise, VA. (Photo by Remote Area Medical)

Upon first glance, it looks as though you are watching the evening news and the above picture is a photo of refugees fleeing a country or region in search of a better life.

But look closely. These are the faces of Americans. Appalachians. They are refugees. Healthcare refugees searching for free medical care that they cannot afford in the what is supposed to be the greatest country and humanitarian country on the face of the planet Earth.

Seventeen years ago, I thought the first RAM event was exploitative as another attempt to push Appalachia and its people, down once again like we have been for over 150 years. Pushed down because of our education, our upbringing, coal mining, our labeled ignorance and stupidity by the national media and last but not least, “sorryness” as some say it in the Appalachian vernacular, for not going and getting a job, having healthcare or just being flat lazy and drawing a check.

Now as RAM begins its eighteenth year at the Wise County Fairgrounds just outside of Wise, my attitude of RAM and the healthcare issue has completely turned from my previous stance seventeen years ago.

The above photo is clearly medical refugees seeking medical care asylum to be treated and diagnosed because, in America, some people cannot afford health insurance or even the outrageous co-pays by insurance providers for procedures or testing.

Remote Area Medical brings people from hours and many miles away seeking medical care, eye care, and dental care. Many are young, uninsured while another percentage are people on fixed income, no Medicaid coverage or a family doctor.  Some make the treks to free health care providers like The Health Wagon and other community clinics established while others wait until an event like this one, comes around nearby to provide them the services they need.

It’s sad to say but for the greatest country on the face of the planet Earth, we’ve reached another Third World milestone in America. Actually, we’ve been sitting there for a while and we are falling to Fourth World status on the topic of health care while at the same time, this same issue which should be uniting us is instead dividing us as a people, a region, and a country.

Seeing pictures like the one and others provided by RAM and stories featured in The Washington Post and other national publications have made me feel lower than low. Maybe they were designed to that, to provoke guilt, shame on Americans for how we view the healthcare crisis in this country. Guilty for ignoring the problem for so long and not taking a stand or taking the initiative.

I did something about two weeks ago that I would have never done years ago.  I wrote the White House and President Trump. But I didn’t write him to give an assessment of his first six months in office or give him a political pep talk or trip to the woodshed.  I invited him to RAM to come see the region that had voted overwhelmingly for him in the 2016 presidential election and more importantly, to see the need of health care here as well as nationally and the face of who needs health care.

There was no response as you might have guessed and he didn’t show up. I suppose it was presumptuous of me to believe that he would show up to an event as RAM. At least an acknowledgment e-mail. I didn’t get that either.

I didn’t do it to be political. I did it because it seemed the right thing, the ethical thing to do.

My invitation as well as the invitation or challenge from other Appalachians, to attend Remote Area Medical probably fell on deaf ears or the inattentiveness of a White House staffer who plans out the president’s agenda. It may simply have been an oversight but then again who knows?

The governor of Virginia extended an invitation to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to come to RAM. As of this entry, McConnell has lived up to his label of “No Show Mitch”. I used to make fun of country singer George Jones for all of his no shows, but now there’s a new king of no shows and Mitch McConnell is the new leader.

But I also have to stop and think that Trump, McConnell and other politicians that might have been invited to RAM have an issue.  An issue that events like RAM and the state of healthcare in our country are a denial that this is actually happening in the greatest country on the face of the Earth. They don’t want to admit or won’t admit that we have a problem with health care in this country. They don’t want to accept it.

They don’t want to admit or won’t admit that we have a problem with health care in this country. They don’t want to accept it. Sort of like people who said the first Moon landing in 1969 was all done on a movie set in California and it was all staged, like the protests and demonstrations claimed by both political parties during the 2016 election, paying people to protest.

It’s a conspiracy by the media, sort of like the late night AM Radio talk shows across the country that talk about UFO and Bigfoot sightings, the healthcare crisis and yes, those poor RAM refugees crammed up against a fence waiting to get healthcare.

I will admit it. I’ve lived that denial for nearly seventeen years.

At first, I would drive by the fairgrounds to see how many people were there to my first eye opener; my wife’s diagnosis of Stage I/IA breast cancer and having no health insurance at the time.  Another eye opener was a friend diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer that has had to fight and scratch to get the very benefits he needs from a system he rightfully paid into.

Another eye opener, my father who has had two major cardiac episodes in the last two to three years, suffers from Type II diabetes and receives Medicare which covers 80 percent leaving his miner’s insurance to cover the other 20 percent.  If my father didn’t have that miner’s insurance covering the other 20%, where would he be? It was a question that led me to stand up and fight for my father’s guaranteed health care and other miners health care that was negotiated by John L. Lewis in the 1940’s and that also stood to be wiped out because of mismanagement, health care costs and yes, a war on coal that did much more than take away jobs in Appalachia, it caused monetary contributions to be reduced and in some cases, companies going bankrupt, depleting the reserves.

All of these events, in addition to the astronomical increases in my health insurance with decreases in coverage, up front co-pays that are as bad as the actual price tag of the procedure or procedures themselves, not being able to qualify for “Obamacare” when it was promised that it would benefit all Americans, have forced me to reconcile myself with an issue that I have chosen to ignore for too long.

Health care is a right. It is something we are all entitled to. Rich or poor, we deserve health care in Appalachia and the United States that is available for all and not a select few, no matter the job, salary or position one holds.

One picture.  The one featured above provided by Remote Area Medical and shared on Facebook, is all it took for me to finally reconcile myself to the issue.

A picture where it appears to be refugees waiting to disembark to a new way of life. A picture of my neighbors in Appalachia seeking health care they cannot afford on a regular basis.

A picture where it seems the people are corraled in a pen and waiting to be sent to their fate, like cattle heading to the slaughter. I see that picture and I think to myself, the death panels, choosing who lives and who dies, who gets medical care and who doesn’t.

I stop once again to look at that picture, gather my thoughts and pause to think of a statement going back to the 2008 presidential campaign that talked about a national healthcare plan and yes, the death panels.  Those people that would sit in a dark, smoke filled room and choose who lives and who died, who gets medical care and who doesn’t.

My God, Sarah Palin wasn’t crazy and a conspiracy theorist, she was spot on right about some of these things, despite what you might have thought about her. She was channeling her Orwellian vision of the future of health care in the United States, warts and all. It’s a numbers game. Take a number. Pay a price. Live well or suffer long.

Now, how do you view that picture when you think of healthcare in the United States of America and Appalachia?

A lot differently, I suppose.

One thought on “Refugees in Appalachia

  1. I am originally from this area people there have been taking care of their self forever anything they can possible get is a God send they dont expect but hope they can get help these people have lived off the land and now they have to be told people from other countries can come and recieve benefites that they are being denied I have no problem helping other people but it iisnit fair for already established inprovished people to have this thrown in their face we are gonna become a communustis country if the American people dont do something we are lucky to have meat on the table once a week these people runniing us are eating steak for breakfast our school children are lucky to get a descent meal refugees get everything and we are paying for it why is our own suffering The Fat Things in Congress lets put them in our shoes and see how long they will last not long I love my country and the people in it that are suffering People wake up speak up

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