Free Mobile Clinics Draw Crowds of Uninsured

Even though it was 5:45 a.m. on a Saturday in Maryville, Tenn., the high school cafeteria had the low buzz of a student lunch period. A cadre of local volunteers sat at a row of 25 computers. Nurses waited for triage duty at tables. Other health professionals, coffee in hand, headed to their stations in a gymnasium or classroom.

Outside, hundreds of people lined up in the chilly darkness, each with a number and a need for health services. Among them was David Fields, 28, of Morristown, Tenn., who has ''gone years'' without seeing a dentist and needed dental work. Fields held number 121.

At 6 a.m., the cafeteria door opened. After waiting overnight in the parking lot, people with the lowest numbers were directed to the registration table.

It marked the opening of a free weekend clinic run by Remote Area Medical, a volunteer-powered nonprofit that annually organizes about 20 mobile ''expeditions'' to treat America's uninsured. The group holds several each year in Tennessee, RAM's home base.