By Sascha Brodsky
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York state health officials have stopped a nonprofit group from providing free medical care to thousands of patients lacking health insurance during a four-day dental conference that starts Friday.
The nonprofit, Remote Area Medical, had raised $3 million and enlisted hundreds of volunteer doctors and other medical workers to offer a range of health services, including dental care, new eyeglasses and other services. The group had planned to treat about 7,000 patients at the New York Sate event.
In September, the New York State Department of Health told the volunteer group, founded in 1985, that it could not treat patients at the conference unless it partnered with an established, state-licensed medical organization.
Despite last-minute efforts, the partnership could not be arranged in time, and the nonprofit group said it found out this week that the state would not waive the requirement.
“This was incredibly disappointing and will mean that thousands of patients won’t get the care they desperately need,” said Stan Brock, the founder of Remote Area Medical.
“In addition, the resources we spent setting up this event in New York City won’t be available to serve other patients in other locations," he said. "We wasted time and money.”
The Greater New York Dental Meeting, held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, is billed by organizers as the largest conference of its kind in the United States with more than 54,000 attendees.
Brock said state health officials told him during negotiations that the free health services his organization provides were not needed.
But Brock said there are tens of thousands of New Yorkers, including homeless people, who are in need of free healthcare.
Nearly 20 percent of adult New Yorkers lack health insurance, according to a 2012 study by the New York City Health Department.
The New York State Department of Health did not respond to calls seeking comment.
A Department of Health representative told the New York Post that the agency attempted to assist Remote Area Medical in setting up the event. "Unfortunately, RAM refused to host the clinic in accordance with New York state law,” the spokesman said, according to the newspaper
Dr. Ian Lerner, one of the conference organizers who invited Remote Area Medical, said the Department of Health’s decision was disappointing but not unexpected.
“They are just doing their job protecting the public,” he said.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)