OAKLAND (CBS SF) — For four days the Oakland Coliseum will be transformed from a sports venue into a hospital, as volunteer dentists, eye care professionals and doctors provide free treatment to underserved Bay Area residents.

The four-day clinic held by the volunteer medical corps Remote Area Medical (RAM) is the second such event that has been held in Oakland. At the first Oakland event last year, more than 3,500 patients were seen, RAM founder Stan Brock said.

Thursday morning, 663 people were given tickets for treatment, most of whom were there for both dental services and vision care.

“We certainly expect it to get a whole lot busier,” Brock said. “I would be very surprised if we leave here in four days’ time without seeing at least 3,500 people.”

Founded in 1985 to provide medical relief to third-world regions, the Tennessee-based organization began holding mobile expeditions in the U.S. seven years later.

Last year was the first time RAM held a health clinic in Northern California. Clinics had been held previously in Southern California.

The organizer of last year’s event, Pamela Congdon, is now the president of RAM California, an affiliation of the larger foundation that was established in September.

Nationally, RAM has held free dental, vision, veterinary and general medical care expeditions in several states.”It really doesn’t matter where we go. You can sort of be blindfolded, stick a pin in the map, and find a large number of people in need,” Brock said when asked whether Oakland was selected for any specific reason.

Currently, the larger organization holds approximately three clinics a month, Brock said, adding that their ability to expand is partially limited by a lack of equipment.

Most of the equipment for the Oakland clinic and a second four-day clinic next week in Sacramento was trucked and flown in from the organization’s Tennessee headquarters. One of the event’s hosts, the Tzu Chi Foundation, provided the remainder of the equipment. The California Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons co-hosts the Northern California events.

The other hindrance is a legal issue: California state, like many other U.S. states, prohibits out-of-state medical professionals from practicing medicine here without a California-issued license.

The law means that RAM has trouble attracting enough local volunteers, in turn limiting the number of patients who can be seen.

“A tooth is a tooth whether you’re in California or Tennessee,” Brock said.

Despite having 95 dental chairs set up, Brock estimated probably no more than 30 were in use at any given time for lack of volunteers.

“We turned away a lot of people today for dentistry because we were already up to 395 people registered,” often for time-consuming procedures such as root canals and tooth extractions, he said.

The clinics aim to serve the uninsured and underinsured, and Brock said the events tend to be self-regulating, allowing the organizers to forego making potential patients jump through hoops to receive treatment.

“The only criterion that we have is that you have to show up,” Brock said.

But, he said, people planning to show up had better arrive early.

Although the doors open at 6:30 a.m. each day, people begin lining up the prior afternoon in hope of securing a ticket to receive care. Tickets are handed out at about 3:30 a.m.

Despite the setbacks, Brock said that as long as there is a need that they would continue to host events.

“The least we can do is try to see as many people as possible,” he said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)


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