St Vincent’s mobile health ministry helps Florida’s ‘most vulnerable’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — About 30 years ago, Ascension St. Vincent’s, St. He started a mobile health service to provide free medical care to migrant farm workers in Johns and Putnam counties.

A small, private group, organized by the Daughters of Charity, who founded the hospital, traveled from site to site in a used van.

Since then, the Department of Mobile Health Welfare has expanded its footprint by adding Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties, and its mission has become a key player in regional efforts to tackle health disparities.

Now five fully equipped and staffed recreational vehicles serve uninsured, uninsured and low-income families in five county areas with free programs for adults, children and seniors. Adult dentistry services are also provided by volunteer dentists.

The units provide most of the primary care services available in a doctor’s office, including exams, management of adult chronic conditions, laboratory services, school and sports physicals, and immunizations.

And on mobile, the ministry is surmounting the primary barrier to Northeast Florida population access to healthcare: a lack of transportation.

“The goal is to serve the most vulnerable,” said registered nurse Claudia Portell, the department’s outreach manager. “Making this care accessible.”

According to health care representatives in the area, no other district hospital or nonprofit has the Ascension St. It does not offer a free mobile healthcare program that is as geographically widespread and comprehensive as that of Vincent. .

Mobile clinics address healthcare barriers

According to Mollie Williams, executive director of Mobile Health Map, a collaborative research network of Harvard Medical School’s mobile health clinics, there are at least 2,000 mobile health clinics nationwide, with a total of 7 million visits per year.

Such clinics are in all 50 states in urban, suburban and rural communities funded by philanthropy, state and federal grants, and insurance reimbursement, he said.

According to a recent Mobile Health Map report, they are helping health organizations fight equity in health and manage costs.

According to the report, “The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on key issues in the healthcare system, including gaps in access to care, rising costs, service provider burnout, and a lack of trust, particularly among underserved and marginalized communities.” “Mobile health programs offer a community-based, high-value and sustainable solution.”

Williams, a co-author of the report, said mobile clinics address the barrier of transportation and many other factors that limit access to healthcare.

“People struggle to access healthcare for logistical reasons… and financial barriers,” he said, citing travel time, lack of reliable transportation, clinic hours, waiting times, as well as high exemptions, lack of insurance and paid sick leave.

Another obstacle is the lack of trust in the health system.

“Mobile clinics go to places where people live, work, play and pray,” Williams said. “By going to the community and building relationships with local organizations and residents, mobile clinics foster trust, respect and connection.”

The pandemic has further raised barriers to healthcare. People lost their jobs and insurance. Misinformation, frequently changing safety rules, and the “politicization of masks and vaccines” have exacerbated insecurity.

“Mobile health clinics are designed to be involved in these communities by fostering relationships and meeting people where they are, rather than dictating health care to them,” Williams said. Said. “By integrating with communities in this way, mobile health clinics are uniquely positioned to advance equity.”

According to the Center for American Progress, an independent, impartial policy institute, states should use mobile clinics to expand access to rural healthcare. They’re affordable, among other things, as they can significantly reduce expensive hospital emergency room visits, according to the center’s February report.

“Despite these advantages, mobile clinics face significant financial barriers to operation,” the report said. “For most of the country, mobile clinics are funded by private donations as opposed to government funds… (which) further adds to the lack of mobile clinic expansion.”

Victoria Nelson recently visited Ascension St. Vincent’s mobile clinic. Ease of programming is a key advantage of the unit, she said.

“You can usually plan ahead to be here, they’ll work with you,” Nelson said. “This was the closest to my house.”

‘eye-opening experience’ for staff

According to Portell, from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, St. Vincent’s mobile clinics provided approximately 8,400 medical services to approximately 6,500 individual people. The program includes 18 staff, some full-time, some part-time, and each clinic has a team of health care providers, three nurses, as well as a commercial driver who assists with patient check-ins. Bilingual staff are available.

“We started small,” he said. “Over time, the program has really grown.”

The program includes regular stops, mostly in aged housing facilities and low-income neighborhoods, and other stops that change depending on needs.

“We’re trying to operate so patients can learn where to get care,” he said.

For 24 years Ascension St. Portell, part of Vincent, has led the traveling ministry for five years. She changes herself to hold her hand while breastfeeding.

“I love getting out on the mobile unit,” he said. “It’s a real ‘feel-good’ thing. … that desire to serve. I take the task very seriously.”

And the mission becomes very clear in a mobile clinic shift.

“I had a slightly more sheltered existence before,” Portell said. But clinic staff are seeing the real-time effects of “lack of access to health care and basic needs like food and shelter.”

“Seeing the inequality that exists is an eye-opening experience,” he said. “Meaningful work.”

The gap in specialist care still exists

Ascension St. Vincent Foundation and its donors fund mobile clinics as part of the hospital’s commitment to “provide compassionate, personalized care to all with special attention to those who struggle most,” said Virginia Hall, the foundation’s president and head of development. officer.

Clinic staff “did this by physically meeting with the most vulnerable members of our community where they are,” said the clinic staff. “We know that Mobile Health Outreach really helps people in our community because they tell us how impactful the care we provide has been in their lives. It means the world to me to know that we are making a difference in the lives of people in our community who would otherwise not be able to access the care they need.”

According to Portell, the foundation’s support and collaboration with other regional organizations with similar missions are critical.

“We can’t meet everyone’s needs,” he said. “Every society has different challenges”

Still, there is a medical care gap for vulnerable populations: access to free specialist care such as cardiologists and oncologists.

In Duval County, We Care Jacksonville connects uninsured patients to a network of free and charitable clinics and specialist doctors as needed. However, there is no such program in the other four surrounding districts.

Portell said there is also a need for volunteer dentists to assist clinics’ dental offerings.

Despite the gaps, St. Vincent’s traveling ministry cares for thousands of people who would not otherwise be able to. And it comes with a bargain.

The program’s budget is about $1.5 million, he said. If these patients had to purchase services individually from brick and mortar facilities, the total cost would be $2 million to $2.5 million.

That’s the value of service, he said.

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