Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar, USAToday 12:44 p.m. EDT July 17, 2015
WISE, Va. — The first Federal Aviation Administration-approved drone delivery of medical supplies brought asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes medications to sick patients at a sprawling rural health clinic in Virginia on Friday.
“It’s going to revolutionize the way we deliver health care,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “This is a Kitty Hawk moment”
In places like these remote hills, it can take an hour for health care workers to get medicine and supplies to residents, but drones could fly them over in five minutes, says Chris Hall, chief operating officer of Remote Area Medical, which put on the free clinic, expected to treat 1,500 people.
“The future of this delivery technology could be tremendous, not only for Remote Area Medical but for relief organizations worldwide,” says RAM founder Stan Brock.
Although you can get a drone at Radio Shack for under $100, drones would have to be FAA-approved to be used for medical purposes and those would currently cost too much, says physician Joe Smiddy, medical director of the nonprofit Health Wagon, which provides care to 5,000 rural Virginians.
Flirtey, a drone delivery company founded in Australia, demonstrated the drone Friday.
Tracy Baily, 50, says she is thankful for the drone — and the RAM event.
“I believe the Lord drove our drone here with medical supplies,” says Baily, who has been going to RAM since 2000. “To me, RAM is something God sent to help people who want to help themselves.”
A house cleaner and daughter of a coal miner, she says her family has been living in these hills for six generations and she will never leave, despite the terrible economy in the area.
She was at RAM on Friday for dental work and glasses.
“We’ll hobble in to RAM, but we’ll walk in proud,” she says.
McAuliffe, a Democrat who used the opportunity to renew his pitch to expand Medicaid to the poorest of the poor in Virginia, said state legislators who voted against the expansion should come to see all of the sick and needy patients.
McAuliffe’s efforts to expand Medicaid in Virginia were blocked by Republican legislators last year. On Tuesday, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent elected last year, said he was pushing forward with Medicaid expansion in his state, which had been blocked by the GOP-controlled legislature.
Referring to the many who needed several or all of their teeth removed, McAuliffe said “you’ll see, in there, buckets of teeth.”
Nobody should be relegated to only getting health care “one day a year,” he said.