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Local health clinic turns hundreds away, organizers say state law is to blame

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BRADENTON, Fla.--One by one, patients were seen and treated this weekend, at Remote Area Medical's free health clinic. The clinic, which took place at Manatee Technical College, accommodated more than a thousand patients, regardless of insurance, medical background or citizenship.

"I think that they stay awake at night concerned that they may have a significant medical issue," said Dr. Bill Colgate of the clinic's patients. 

Colgate was one of more than 400 volunteers, who gave their time and medical expertise to patients.

"I think that the most moving aspect for me is those that were almost brought to tears by the care they were able to receive, without being asked for payment," said Colgate. 

The clinic was still understaffed though, and organizers were forced to turn patients away. Only treating the first 600 people that arrived. Board member for Remote Area Medical, Dr. Richard Conard, says the clinic had the supplies to treat twice the number of patients it ultimately treated, but simply didn't have the man power. 

"We gave out all the tickets within 20 minutes," said Conard, "so there were people who had come and spent the night in their car with the hopes of being seen that had to be told we just didn't have the capacity." 

Conard says the shortage of medical professionals is largely thanks to one Florida law, that prohibits out of state doctors, dentists, and vision professionals from crossing state lines to treat patients here in Florida.

Remote Area Medical, Conard adds, has an extensive network across the nation of willing medical professionals, but they're simply not allowed to cross state lines and provide their services in Florida. 

"They make their vacation plans around coming and helping," said Conard of medical volunteers, "and there was a whole population of professionals who would love to have come."

Conard is hoping to see a change to that law though, that would make an exception in the case of free health clinics. He and his colleagues plan to advocate for that change when the the legislature reconvenes in March. 

"We have to find a way to allow licensed, highly vetted, excellent practitioners to come into our state for a weekend and work with us to take care of this very needy population," said Conard.