My friend and traveling companion from Danville, Beth Coger (dark pants in center of photo), waiting to transport patients to their individual doctors.
A small portion of the 1200 volunteers at the Free Health Care Clinic in Little Rock today.
Me (center) with two new lovely friends, waiting to register patients.
What common denominator would bring together 1200 Arkansans of various ages, from different cities, backgrounds, races, religious beliefs and political parties on a beautiful Fall Saturday when the Razorbacks were playing their last home game just a few miles down the road? What could possibly unite this wonderful cross section of Americana, all dressed in red t-shirts, jeans and comfortable shoes and cause them to assemble to help their fellow man? Would it surprise you to learn that it is the same cause that has viciously divided this country for weeks?
Health care for everyone was the call that beckoned each one of us to the Statehouse Convention Center today, and for those of us who volunteered to work at the event, it was an experience that went beyond memorable and rewarding.
Even though some of our state-wide media outlets advertised the event as "controversial", none of the volunteers or over a thousand of people who needed, and received, medical care today looked at it that way. There was a desperate need, and these 1200 volunteers came together in a non-partisan, non-judgemental way to fill that need.
I can't remember when I have been more proud of an elected official as I was of our Lt. Governor, Bill Halter. Mr. Halter, his lovely wife, and the top tier of his staff were there when the doors opened and they worked until after dark when the doors closed. All were dressed in their red "volunteer" t-shirts with nothing to differentiate them from the rest of us except their personal name on the mandatory identification badges. They each worked in the "trenches" doing the exact same jobs as all of the other volunteers. They registered patients and showed everyone the same respect Mr. Halter is given each day in his office at the State Capitol. Some people knew who they were, some didn't. And that didn't seem to matter because they knew today wasn't about them, but about the people they had come there to help. What we did know was that Bill Halter had procured the site and promoted the event tirelessly through the local and national media and on his website. As I listened to his brief pep talk to the volunteers right before the doors opened, I realized once again that this was a young energetic politician who actually "gets it".
Each of us working today had up close and personal hands-on contact with the patients. We each heard heart breaking and heart warming stories.....stories none of us will soon forget. What may or may not surprise my readers is that the majority of the patients I registered today between noon and 7:30pm were employed, but could not afford health insurance. Of all of the people I interviewed today, only two had a personal physical. The remainder either went to the emergency room or did nothing at all when they needed health care.
The misconception that this Free Clinic would be for the homeless, illegal immigrants, or other people trying to ride the system is simply not true. Many of these people were hardworking Americans who could not afford insurance or their employers did not offer it, or had recently been laid off due to the downturn in the economy.
On the drive home tonight, my friend Beth and I wished that everyone who does not believe or acknowledge this segment of our population exists (or conveniently chooses to ignore them) could have spent just one hour with us today. It would have been for them, as it was for us, a life changing experience.....and one we are so grateful for the opportunity to have been a tiny part of.