NEWPORT NEWS — Despite a sleepless night in their car, Vickie and Vanessa Pratt wore bright smiles along with their perfectly manicured nails at 6:30 a.m. The 64-year-old identical twins arrived at 11 p.m. Friday to wait for a free healthcare clinic provided by Remote Area Medical.
The medical nonprofit holds about 60 clinics a year around the country, but only goes where it’s invited, organizers said. For this event, it was hosted by the Tidewater Adventist Community, which provided all the medical personnel and volunteers, at the Peninsula Seventh Day Adventist Spanish Church.
By 6 a.m., when registration began, 14 cars had arrived, and dozens more showed up as intake, triage and exams churned into gear. Organizers expected to provide dental, vision and medical care for hundreds at the free clinic, which requires no insurance or identification, on Saturday and Sunday.
The Pratts’ arrival from Hampton put them first in line for much required dental care. Vanessa had a sore tooth in need of pulling for months. Vickie’s case was simpler, yet has dragged on much longer; she’s been trying to get a cleaning for more than six years.
“I’ve called every dentist in town,” she said. “They say they have no openings.”
The problem was insurance. Vickie — who worked as a pipe cutter at Newport News Shipyard before a full shoulder replacement and four shoulder surgeries put her out of work — needed to find a way to get free care or a plan that would let her manage to pay out of pocket.
She also takes care of her sister, who is disabled; they’ve never married or even lived apart. Vanessa is eight minutes older, and Vickie has been the family caregiver all her life — she now takes care of them both.
Dental services typically make up 60% of the care provided by Remote Area Medical clinics, according to Chris Cannon, media relations coordinator for the nonprofit. The most common needs are cleanings, fillings and extractions of damaged teeth.
“The goal is not only to alleviate pain but to provide for follow-up care,” said Dr. Elias Llerandi, a dentist, co-chair of the Tidewater Adventist Community and a driving force behind the clinic.