JACKSONVILLE, FL (AP) — Nearly 30 years ago, Ascension St. Vincent launched Mobile Health Outreach to provide free medical care to migrant farm workers in St. John’s and Putnam counties.
Organized by the daughters of the charity that founded the hospital, small, dedicated groups traveled from site to site in second-hand minivans.
Since then, the Mobile Health Outreach Ministry has expanded its reach to include the counties of Duval, Clay and Nassau, making its mandate a vital part of local efforts to combat health disparities.
Currently, five fully equipped and staffed recreational vehicles serve uninsured, underinsured, and low-income households in five county areas and offer free programs for adults, children and seniors. I’m here. Adult dental services are also provided by volunteer dentists.
These units provide most of the primary care services available in clinics, including testing, chronic adult disease management, testing services, school and sports checkups, and immunizations.
By going mobile, the department is also overcoming a major barrier to access to health care for people in northeastern Florida: a lack of transportation.
“The goal is to serve the most vulnerable,” said Claudia Portel, a registered nurse and community outreach manager for the ministry. She “makes that care accessible.”
According to local health officials, no other hospital or nonprofit offers a free mobile health program that is as broad and geographically comprehensive as Ascension St. Vincent’s. .
Mobile clinics address barriers to healthcare
According to Mollie Williams, executive director of Harvard Medical School’s Mobile Health Map, a collaborative research network of mobile clinics, there are at least 2,000 mobile clinics across the country, which collectively attract seven million visitors each year.
Such clinics are in urban, suburban and rural communities in all 50 states and are funded by charities, state and federal grants and insurance reimbursements, she said.
According to the recent Mobile Health Map report, they are helping healthcare organizations address health equity and control costs.
According to the report, “The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on fundamental problems in the healthcare system, including gaps in access to healthcare, rising costs, burnout of healthcare providers and a lack of trust. It’s noticeable among underserved and marginalized communities.” “Mobile Health Programs offer high-value, sustainable solutions that are locally-based.”
The report’s co-author Williams said mobile clinics are addressing transportation barriers and many other factors that limit access to healthcare.
“People are struggling to get access to health care for logistical reasons…and there are also economic barriers,” she said, adding that travel times, lack of reliable transportation, consultation times, waiting times, They cited high deductibles, lack of insurance, and paid sick leave.
Another barrier is a lack of trust in the healthcare system.
“The mobile clinic goes where people live, work, play and pray,” Williams said. “By going out into the community and building relationships with local organizations and residents, mobile clinics foster trust, respect and connection.”
The pandemic has created even higher barriers to healthcare. People lost their jobs and insurance. Misinformation, frequently changing safety guidelines and the “politicization of masks and vaccines” exacerbated her mistrust, she said.
“Mobile clinics are designed to immerse themselves in these communities by nurturing relationships and meeting people where they are, rather than directing them to health care,” Williams said. “By integrating into the community in this way, mobile health clinics are uniquely positioned to improve equity.”
According to the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan policy agency, states should use mobile clinics to expand access to healthcare in rural areas. According to his February report from the center, it is considered cost-effective, as it can significantly reduce costly visits to emergency departments.
“Despite these benefits, mobile clinics face significant financial barriers to operation,” said the report. “In most of the country, mobile clinics are funded by private donations rather than state funds …[this]further contributes to the lack of expansion of mobile clinics.”
Victoria Nelson recently visited Ascension St. Vincent’s mobile clinic when she stopped by Lakeshore Baptist Church in Jacksonville, 10 miles from her home. Ease of scheduling is the main advantage of the unit, she said.
“Usually you can plan before you come here. They work with you,” Nelson said. “This was the closest thing to my home.”
The staff’s “experience of scales from the eyes”
From July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, St. Vincent’s mobile clinic provided about 8,400 medical services to about 6,500 people, according to Portell. The program has 18 of his staff, some full-time and some part-time, and each clinic has a healthcare provider, three nurses, and assistance with patient check-ins. We have a team that includes commercial drivers who We have bilingual staff.
“We started small,” she said. “The program has really grown over time.”
The schedule includes regular stops such as senior housing and low-income areas, as well as other stops that vary according to your needs.
“We try to operate in a way that patients learn … where they can access care,” she said.
A part of Ascension St. Vincent for 24 years, Portel has operated a mobile ministry for five years. She took shifts on her own and continues to nurse her.
“I love being on my cell phone,” she said. “It’s a real ‘feel good.’ …that desire to serve. I take that mission very seriously. “
And that mission becomes very clear in the mobile clinic shift.
“Before, I was a little more protected,” Portel said. But clinic staff are seeing the impact of “lack of access to health care and basic necessities such as food and shelter” in real time.
“It’s an eye-opening experience to see the disparities that exist,” she said. “It’s meaningful work.”
A Gap in Specialist Care Still Exists
The Ascension St. Vincent’s Foundation and its donors have launched a mobile clinic as part of the hospital’s commitment to “provide compassionate, personalized care for all, with special attention to those most suffering.” We fund the place. board member.
Clinic staff “did this by physically meeting where the most vulnerable members of our community were,” she said. has really helped people in our community because they tell us how much the care we provide has impacted their lives. It means a lot to me to know that I am making a difference in the lives of people in vulnerable communities.”
According to Portell, the foundation’s support is very important, as is cooperation with other community groups with similar missions.
“You can’t meet all your needs,” she said. “Each community has different challenges.”
Still, gaps in healthcare exist for vulnerable populations. Access to free medical specialties such as cardiologists and oncologists.
In Duval County, We Care Jacksonville connects uninsured patients to a network of free charity clinics and specialists when needed. But no such program exists in his four surrounding counties.
We also need volunteer dentists to help out with dental products in the clinic, Portell said.
Despite the gaps, St. Vincent’s Mobile Ministries are providing care to thousands who otherwise would not have received it. And it’s a bargain.
The program’s budget is about $1.5 million, she said. If these patients had to purchase services individually from a brick-and-mortar facility, the total cost would be $2 million to $2.5 million for her.
“That’s the value of service,” she said.