Chantal Lovell and Jarrertt Skorup hand out food at Remote Area Medical.

Remote Area Medical (RAM) is a nonprofit organization that provides free clinics for people who need medical, dental or vision care. It also offers food for people, including donated fresh fruits and vegetables to take home, and occasionally performs services for pets. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a clinic in Florida, meeting the nurses, doctors, dentists and veterinarians who volunteer their time. Many of them came in from other states. I was also able to sit down with the leaders of RAM, founder Stan Brock and CEO Jeff Eastman.

Why did I have to go all the way to Florida to volunteer in a clinic? Because RAM can only operate in  states with the right kind of regulations. Eastman and Brock explained to me that while their highest needs are money and volunteers, a state’s licensing apparatus often determines whether they can hold a clinic. Many of the professionals who volunteer at a clinic come from out of state. So unless a state accepts licenses from other areas, RAM cannot help people there.

RAM has long wanted to do a clinic in Detroit. Doing so would require drawing on doctors from elsewhere, including people from nearby Canada or Ohio. A chunk of professionals who come to many RAM clinics from the Buffalo, New York, area may also come over to help. 

But Michigan’s licensing laws make it a felony for out-of-state practitioners to work here — even if they are volunteers. This is not unusual.

So, for now, RAM operates in states like Florida, Illinois and Tennessee. The latter has a lower regulatory barrier, allowing the nonprofit overseeing the clinic to verify that their professional volunteers are licensed. So as long as they have a license somewhere, they can volunteer in the Volunteer State. 

Remote Area Medical relies on donations and volunteers. It doesn’t look for taxpayer help. But it’d be nice if the government at least allowed it to operate.