Sunday night, CBS News’ 60 Minutes did a huge public service by running a story on the St. Mary’s Health Wagon, a medical charity that aids impoverished people in mountainous western Virginia, a part of Appalachia.
The staff includes Dr. Joe Smiddy, the organization’s medical director who drives an 18-wheeler X-ray clinic, and Teresa Gardner and Paula Meade, nurse practitioners who go about their rounds in a converted motor home, a 13-year-old Winnebago. (His part of the interview starts at about 8:30 on the video.)
Smiddy is a physician first and driver second. “I had to go to tractor-trailer school,” he told correspondent Scott Pelley. “It wasn’t easy.” Even harder was finding someone to insure a doctor to drive a tractor-trailer.
The X-ray machine helps him diagnose lung and other respiratory diseases among people who live in the area.
“This is a third world country of diabetes, hypertension, lung cancer, and COPD,” he said. He also sees a lot of black lung disease among former coal miners. These people are financially just scraping by, so can’t afford regular medical care and have no health insurance. Some lost their jobs; others work for minimum-wage jobs with no insurance benefits. Obamacare isn’t helping them because their state did not expand Medicaid.
Of course I eyeballed the doctor’s rig. An International 9200 sleeper-cab tractor pulls the purpose-built X-ray van. The van appears to be about 45 feet long. Streaks of rust suggest the trailer was built years ago.
Joe Smiddy is a doctor who also drives a special 18-wheeler.
Lettering on the tractor indicates it’s provided by Land-Air Express, an expedited carrier based on Bowling Green, Ky. If you’re a shipper, please send some business their way.
Gardner and Meade, friends since 8th grade, drive the old Winnebago through the “hollers” to hold their clinic hours on parking lots throughout the four-county area. They look and act like angels, diagnosing ills, and dispensing prescription drugs and medical advice along with big doses of hope and mercy.
Angels on wheels, Teresa Gardner (right) and Paula Meade are nurse practitioners who go about their rounds in a converted motor home.
“They have nowhere else to go,” Meade said of their patients, some of them “train wrecks” from neglected maladies and medical conditions. The nurses apply for government grants that cover about a third of Health Wagon’s $1.5 million annual budget, and appeal to churches and charities for the rest.
The organization has a brief website, www.thehealthwagon.org. On it are links to their Facebook site, www.facebook.com/TheHealthWagon, where there are scores of pictures of the nurses and their patients. They accept donations through the Network For Good; I just sent in 50 bucks, and I hope a million other viewers did the same after watching 60 Minutes.
Gardner and Meade previously raised enough money to replace their old Winnebago, beset as it is in the video with a non-working windshield defroster and a hole in the floorboards, Pelley reported. They deserve a deluxe diesel pusher.
And while Dr. Smiddy evidently handles the multi-speed manual tranny just fine, he'd probably appreciate a newer tractor with an automated or automatic transmission. I don’t know the mechanical condition his X-ray van, but it sure could use a coat of paint.