Former Host of Mutual of Omahaís Wild Kingdom and Founder of Remote Area Medical, Stan Brock
Who hasn't heard of Stan Brock?
For years, Stan was a regular fixture in America's living rooms as co-host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.
That program hasn't been on the air for many years now - but the legacy remains. If you watch TV at all, or if you go to the movies, sooner or later you'll hear a reference to Wild Kingdom. One character will refer to another one as crazy as "that guy on Wild Kingdom who wrestles the snakes."
That's the Stan Brock Americans, young and old, have known and loved for years. But that is just one Stan Brock persona.
Stan grew up as a proper English schoolboy. At age 17 he moved to South America where he spent the next 15 years living on one of the world's largest working cattle ranches.
He eventually became manager of the ranch - and of its crew of Indian vaqueros.
It was his experience there that led naturally to his work with the animals of Wild Kingdom and numerous other television and movie projects. Stan also is a pioneer Amazon bush pilot, a noted authority on wildlife management and conservation, and an expert on rain forests and their inhabitants.
But for 25 years there was one haunting image that Stan couldn't get out of his mind - the isolated Indian families who had no medical care. When he lived there Stan provided what medical care he could as an educated, but non-medical person, but he always wanted to find a way to provide these people with the basic medical care that most of us take for granted.
He did it through an organization he founded called Remote Area Medical, an all-volunteer, airborne medical corps that takes skilled medical professionals from various parts of the developed world, to the undeveloped world.
RAM, as the group is called, has completed some 200 missions. RAM volunteer doctors, dentists, optometrists, and nurses have treated thousands of patients for everything from dietary decencies to cleft pallet surgery.. Volunteers sometimes often hundreds of patients in a single dawn-to-dusk day. RAM veterinarians work side-by-side with other volunteers to treat the dogs, cattle, and other animals of the people RAM serves.
Many will remember Stan Brock as the fearless and adventurous host of Mutual of Omahaís Wild Kingdom, but what I suspect he will forever be remembered for is his compassionate commitment to the well being of people, as demonstrated in the remarkable work that he is doing to further the possibility that health care should be a right of everyone and not a privilege for just a few.
Stan Brock is the REAL kind of hero.
DR: Tell me about your life and your work.
SB: What is most relevant for this program right now, Dana, is to replicate it throughout the United States because we have a mandate from the American public apparently, with huge quantities of mail coming here from concerned citizens, about the health care crisis in the United States.
Up until a few months ago when 60 Minutes and CBS happened to do a profile of Remote Area Medical's work in this country, the only people who really knew who we were, were the poor. Now the general public knows about us in large numbers. Also the foreign public knows about us now because 60 Minutes plays in a lot of foreign countries. I met somebody yesterday who had been in a hotel in one of the Baltic States and saw us on 60 Minutes.
The problem is, that as long as I have been in this country, which is a long time, people have not been able to afford health care unless they are either very well to do financially, or very well insured. Here we are in the richest country in the world, listed as number thirty seven out of one hundred and ninety countries, by the World Health Organization, in terms of our ability to provide care for our citizens. The system here is a privilege of the well to do and the very well insured. Most people seem to sort of fall outside of that economic block.
We have seen an increase in the number of patients that we are seeing. We have seen a steady decrease over the last two years in the number of children that we see, which is gratifying, even though we never saw more than 6.6 percent at our hugely attended clinics. Most of the participants are adults. The percentage of children has fallen to about 3percent. In fact we just held a clinic in the mountains at the West Virginia Kentucky border and there were only 3.9 percent children. Children, up until the age of eighteen are able to get the care that they need in most cases, but after the age of eighteen they are sort of thrown out there to the wolves as far as health care is concerned, unless their parents are well off or they have a good job and excellent insurance.
Most insurance policies exclude dentistry and vision care so you've got millions of people out there in terrible pain from bad teeth and neglect. They can't see well enough to get a job when all they need is a pair of glasses.
DR: Oh yeah... absolutely...
One of the things that is so stunning about your work is that you started out intending to conduct most of your clinics in third world countries and yet you have ended up conducting about 60 percent of your clinics in the United States.
You know I grew up in a wild part of the upper Amazon. We were twenty six days on foot from the nearest doctor. So, a few injuries later and a couple of bouts with Malaria and other diseases, sort of convinced me that if I ever had the opportunity, I would bring the doctors a little bit closer than twenty six days on foot.
We started out as an airborne relief organization with an overseas agenda but rather early in our career we discovered that there was a need here in the United States that wasn't being met. Now, 60 percent or more of our work is done in the United States.
DR: So, you were in Appalachia this past weekend?
SB: Yeah, we did, what for us, is a medium sized event in a place called Grundy, Virginia which is a mountainous area in the state of Virginia, but all the way over in the southwest corner. Eight hundred and twenty one people walked in the door during the day and a half that we held the event. We had a good force of dentists and eye doctors and medical doctors and so those eight hundred and twenty one patients actually got one thousand six hundred and fifty six services. In other words many of them got their teeth fixed and got a pair of eyeglasses and got to see a medical doctor about other issues that many of them had like diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. So it was just under half a million dollars in free care and it took six hundred and eighty eight volunteers to make it happen.
DR: My goodness...
SB: That for us is a medium sized event. A large event for us in a couple of days would be treating around 5,000 or more patients.
DR: So you would consider this past weekend a big success?
SB: Oh yes! We couldn't see everybody that turned out because of the long wait.
We gave out over two hundred numbers before it got dark the Friday before we opened the event on Saturday morning. These people had waited all night for service and then of course, except for the ones that came in the door as soon as we opened with number one or number two, there was still a long wait inside the school building that we had converted for this event. But you know, these people are just beautiful to work with. They are so appreciative of the help that we are able to give them and I can say exactly the same for the people during the events that we have held for example in New Orleans both during Katrina and a year and two years later.
People appreciate the help that they can get and I just wish that people would realize, as I am sure most of them do, that if they looked after themselves a bit better -- did their exercises, tried to eat the right kind of food and avoided smoking and drinking soft drinks, which are so corrosive on the teeth for example -- these problems would be greatly reduced. But, nature being what it is, people, especially people that have very, very low incomes, I suppose consider a cigarette and a soft drink as a bit of a treat.
DR: I have shared about your work with so many people. I think of it often and reference it often because I think that this is one of the most serious issues that we face in this country and I am wondering whether or not you are experiencing an impact that RAM might be having on the whole health care crisis in this country right now.
SB: I'd like to believe that we are but, you know Dana, I am not all that optimistic about that.
Back in April of this year I was asked to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Health Care in Washington and I told them about the kind of problems we were running into and the kinds of things that I thought the government really needed to correct that would help alleviate them - ideas that wouldn't cost the government a nickel - but I have been harping on the subject for many years. Nothing ever gets done about it. Although, they did do something about it here in the state of Tennessee.
There are things that the government could do that would not cost the taxpayer anything. Of course what we do does not cost the taxpayer anything because we do not use any government funding whatsoever. But there are things that the government could do that would really help what we do and help to replicate what we do on a far wider scale.
DR: That is certainly frustrating.
I remember reading a story in the Washington Post in February of 2006 about a twelve year old boy named Deamonte Driver. He died of a tooth infection because nobody was willing to treat him because his mother didn't have the money or the right kind of insurance coverage for his treatment. How could anyone just let a child suffer like that? It just seems to me that if there is something that the government can do, then they would do it. I just don't understand this...
SB: Well, I was actually at the Capitol in Annapolis last month meeting with senior officials there because they were interested in the possibility of bringing Remote Are Medical programs to Maryland. We've had these requests from individuals and organizations from all across the country. There are hardly any states since the 60 Minute's broadcast where we haven't had a request "Bring the RAM program here"!
The thing I told the House Ways and Means Committee is that in order to replicate this program on a much wider scale, we have to be allowed to bring in doctors and nurses and veterinarians (because we have a big veterinarian program) from any state where there are willing health care providers. In other words, if you are licensed in one state in the United States, you can't cross state lines and provide even free care to somebody in another state. It's against the law. Now the only real exception to that is in Tennessee. The Volunteer Health Care Services Act, which dates back to 1995, is a Bill that we requested and the legislature passed, allows us to bring in any of these practitioners from anywhere in the United States where they have a license, as long as they are providing free care under the umbrella of a charitable organization. We, Remote Area Medical, are the only ones who seem to be taking advantage of this Bill.
An interesting phenomenon is that it is very difficult to recruit enough local practitioners to take care of the need in their home town. But those same reluctant practitioners will travel eight hundred or a thousand miles to provide free care somewhere else...
Letter From The Founder
A half century or more ago, I was living in a part of the upper Amazon basin where health care was a 26-day march away on foot. I survived malaria, dengue fever, numerous wild animal attacks and various encounters with Longhorns and mustangs without the help of a doctor. Others were not so lucky and I buried a number of them. It occurred to me that designing an all-volunteer health and veterinary care program for such desolate places might make life easier for a whole lot of people. It took a few years to work out the concept, but in 1985, Remote Area Medicalģ was born. We have been called RAM ever since and in quite a few parts of the world, the appearance of a RAM Team means an opportunity for poor folks to get some real treatment free of charge from real doctors and veterinarians. But real doctors canít do it without real help from nurses, technicians and all sorts of support people. In fact, over 26,000 of you have temporarily left your comfortable homes, jobs and families behind and signed up as RAM volunteers and about 300,000 patients are very glad you did.
So, if you are a physician, dentist, ophthalmologist, optometrist, veterinarian or any one of those support people these specialists cannot function properly without, please realize how important you are to the lives of thousands of people in desperate need of your help.
Browse through our web site and see where your skills might fit in. Then give us a call or signal us via e-mail. Yes, we fly airplanes that are probably older than you are and sometimes we parachute out of them. And, although you should glance at our WARNING page, donít be deterred. Most of our work is done with two feet on solid ground and you donít have to be an athlete to participate. You just need to be willing and compassionate.
I look forward to seeing you.
DR: That's interesting...
SB: Yeah. So you've got to be able to bring in the folks who are willing to provide the care -- from anywhere in the country. We do that in Tennessee and there are no hoops to jump through. They simply show up and give us a copy of their license and roll up their sleeves and get busy.
DR: That is great.
SB: It needs to be that way throughout the United States. So, if you could get that message to your audience, Dana, and maybe they could sort of agitate for that kind of a change it would help immeasurably.
The same problem exists in the desperately poor Indian reservations in this country where the health care is largely controlled by the Indian Health Service. For one of our volunteers to volunteer his or her time as a dentist or an eye specialist or an eye care specialist they have to fill out dozens of forms and submit to a background check that takes two or three months to go through, for a week or two of volunteering. I mean it is absolutely ridiculous.
DR: Well it certainly doesn't encourage participation, that's for sure.
SB: Doctors are busy enough as it is and if you start throwing all of that paper work at them, well, they'd rather be on the golf course. So we want to make it easy like we do it in Tennessee.
DR: What else can people do? What else can I share with my readers about what they can do or about how they can get involved from right where they are?
SB: Well they can certainly talk to their legislators.
Another forward thinking congressman, John Duncan, back in 1997, tried to get congress to adopt the Tennessee model, which incidentally was endorsed by the American Medical Association but it's never gone to the floor of the House. It was House Concurrent Resolution 69 to encourage all the states to adopt the Tennessee model but it never got out of committee. Such a rule nationwide would not cost the government a nickel. It is unbelievable that there is such resistance to it. These various boards of this and that in the medical profession are very territorial and protective of their turf. I really think that is the whole reason for resisting this.
Do you know that at least twelve states in this country, and I heard this yesterday from somebody in the state of Virginia, in the correctional facilities -- in other words the Federal and State prisons -- that not only do they make license plates for your motor car but some of the states have a program where the inmates are making eyeglasses with prescriptions and they get very, very good at it. Making eyeglasses is not rocket science.
And so we now have an offer, which I am delighted about, to one of the states. An enterprising optician, who works at the facility, told me that they have an excess capacity of about 50 pairs of glasses a day that they could make and so all we will have to do is send our prescriptions to them. We can make about 200 pairs of glasses a day with our mobile unit at these free events, but there are frequently many, many more people that we can make glasses for. Now, here is an opportunity with this one state, where we will be able to send some of these jobs and have the inmates make the glasses to prescription. They will be exact with fashionable frames that we will provide, that the patient has already selected and the prison will send them back and they will get to the patient. Now something like that, if they can make fifty pairs a day, five days week -- that is a thousand pairs a month. There are at least twelve states that have this kind of a program...
DR: Wow! That is a lot of people that will get a new pair of glasses!
SB: Exactly! And I am wondering if they can actually start making dentures because that is another problem that these folks have. We pull out all of their teeth because they are absolutely rotten and abscessed and then the poor souls have nothing to chew with.
DR: I mean there is such an opportunity here for us to start caring about our neighbors or strangers even. It is not okay for me to know that anyone, anywhere, is walking around sick or hurt and can't get any help. That is just not acceptable.
Your ideas and suggestions seem like they would have an even far greater impact than just providing people with the health care that they need. I mean if you consider the positive consequences that would come out of prisons because inmates are being asked to make glasses and dentures for people who are in pain or who can't het a job because they can't see, imagine how they would feel about being able to contribute like that.
This is an election year and things could change perhaps. I know some people who know about what we do and they actually invited the two candidates to come to Virginia the last weekend in July where we did 5,475 patients with 1,584 volunteers. Now, what an opportunity it would have been for the candidates but neither of them took us up on the offer. What an opportunity to see these thousands of American poor all congregated at the Wise county fair grounds and over a thousand volunteers -- 1500 doctors and dentists who want to help them -- and start fielding some questions. They would have come away from that event saying "Wow! If I get elected I will do something about this problem!" But they were both too busy to come.
DR: That's disappointing.
DR: What are you most proud of with regard to the work that you have done?
SB: I am most proud of the volunteers that are there to deliver the care.
My idea was born from getting smashed up by wild horses when I was a buckaroo on the Brazil border with the doctor a twenty six days ride away. I had the idea and the concept but I am not a doctor. It took compassionate people whether those people are physicians or dentists or optometrists or nurses or just support workers who carry the luggage and help set up the equipment. This last weekend, at a medium size event, eight hundred and twenty one patients only, it took 8, 084 volunteer hours to achieve that. That's a lot of compassionate work.
DR: Yes it really is...
A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
SB: I hope that a hundred years from now, nobody will remember me at all because this will be a thing of the past. That is my feeling about that. But there seems to be no end in sight. I once said "I'm not sure the increase in the patients is because we are getting better known as an organization or is it that the health car situation in this country getting worse. It is the latter.
I would like to see us work ourselves out of a volunteer job because we don't need the work. Nobody is getting paid. Then maybe we can concentrate on places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic and Africa and India where we had programs and where the need is incredible. In the mean time, we will do the best we can.
I am just sad every time we have to turn hundreds of people away because we've run out of time...
Stan Brock's book: All the Cowboys Were Indians
All the Cowboys Were Indians is adventurer Stan Brock's account of his life in the Amazon rain forest on the Dadanawa, the world's largest tropical cattle ranch.
You will meet him as a fugitive schoolboy from England, longing to become a real vaquero. You will agonize with him as he learns bone-crushing lessons the hard way. You will share his triumph as he tames a killer horse. You will fall in love with Leemo, his pet mountain lion, and all the other four-footed and feathered friends he acquires during his days on the Dadanawa... days in a faraway time when all the cowboys were Indians...
All the Cowboys Were Indians, and author's royalties are donated to the Remote Area Medical Foundation.