- Written by CLAIRE SHEFCHIK
- Published: 06 December 2017
Having conducted over 900 emergency expeditions dating back to 1985, Stan Brock rarely gets much rest.
But even for Mr. Brock — the 81-year-old founder of the non-profit Remote Area Medical, Inc. — 2017 was a particularly exhausting year.
“Along came Hurricane Harvey in Houston and we responded to that,” he said over the phone from his homebase in Knoxville, Tennessee. “No sooner did we get back from Hurricane Harvey than we were obligated to go to the Caribbean for Irma, then Puerto Rico for Maria.”
With a reserve volunteer base of thousands of medical professionals and seven airplanes, RAM was well-equipped to arrive on Tortola soon after Hurricane Irma, where his team dropped off food, water, medical supplies and two water purifiers capable of treating 500 gallons per day.
“We previously used them to success in South Sudan, purifying the dirtiest water out of the Nile River,” he said.
The organisation also had a pilot: Mr. Brock himself, who remains modest about his role.
“When I formed the organisation many years ago, it was to parachute into remote areas of the upper Amazon,” he said. “I’m not a doctor; I’m just someone who helps carry the luggage and set up the camp. It just so happens that I also fly the airplane.”
But when Mr. Brock — who is also an actor, an author, a taekwondo black belt and a former host of the television show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where he wrangled anacondas and grizzly bears — moved to the United States, he realised that there were huge numbers of people in his adopted country who needed health care.
To date, RAM has operated more than 700 mobile clinics in cities across the US, with 100 dental chairs and the ability to supply 100 free pairs of glasses a day.
Origins of RAM
Mr. Brock described how RAM began with a harrowing experience of being seriously injured and nearly dying while working as a cowboy in the remote jungles of Guyana alongside the people of the Wapishana tribe (which also inspired the title of his 1969 memoir, All the Cowboys Were Indians).
“One of the other cowboys told me the nearest clinic was a 26-day journey away,” he said.
During that experience, he decided that people in the world’s most inaccessible regions deserve access to quality medical care.
Now, the medical team is currently caring for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, where members are providing free medical, dental and vision care until Dec. 21 — and probably beyond.
“We will probably establish a base in Puerto Rico because of the need for the recovery,” he said.
And he hasn’t forgotten about the VI, either.
“We hope to be able to provide additional services for [the VI] as well,” he said, adding that the territory is “particularly close to my heart because I’m British.”
Mr. Brock, who was born in Lancashire, England, has sent more than 114,000 medical volunteers into the field over the 32 years RAM has existed.
In fact, he says, a medical team is still prepared at a moment’s notice to relieve the staff at Peebles Hospital — and has been for some time.
“What they asked us for were emergency room physicians and nurses to just ease the strain of the overworked, hardworking people that they had,” he said.
Mr. Brock said the organisation submitted the names of qualified volunteers to health officials in the territory.
“We’ll send as many as they want,” he said. “We’re waiting for them to send them down there.”
If three months sounds like a long time to be dealing with red tape, the VI is not alone.
The US and the European Union make it difficult if not impossible for physicians and nurses licensed in other countries to volunteer their services there, and Mr. Brock feels strongly about lifting those restrictions: In 2014, he testified before US Senator Bernie Sanders at a subcommittee hearing on the subject.
He added, “I made a suggestion to the [World Health Organisation] several years ago that doctors who can prove with their credentials that they are who they say they are … need to be allowed to cross international borders, and that they issue what I call a global medical provider card, so that when these terrible things happen, all you have to do is pack your things and go.”
He also feels that with the high numbers of older aircraft regularly retired by the major airlines, at least a few of them should be donated and made available solely for emergency use.
“The airplane would be sitting at the airport, partially loaded with the stuff that you’re going to use in all these disasters,” he said. “Then all you have to do is call on the volunteers with their bags packed, and within 24 hours then you can launch.”
Mr. Brock believes that climate change will create more difficult times ahead for this region of the world, and that preparation is vital.
“Many islands in the Caribbean are going to experience very serious issues,” he said.
Meanwhile, over 32 years of doing its part, RAM has grown successful enough to support a team of full-time employees, but he says donations are still the heart of their funding.
“The mainstay of that is really those $10 and $15 donations that people kindly send in,” he said.
Mr. Brock also confirmed that he takes no salary from his work with RAM.
“Even when I had money, it all came into this organisation,” he explained.
So how does he support himself?
“People are very nice,” he said. “I’ll come into the office one morning and there’s a bunch of bananas on the table.”
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 30, 2017 Beacon print edition.