When patients don’t have reliable transportation to see a health care provider, it can mean they don’t get the medical care that they need that could help them live healthier lives and prevent more serious illnesses that require hospitalization. It can also mean that health care providers are seeing a lot of no shows for appointments. That is what the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Nursing realized was happening at their UNACARE Health Clinic in the Midtown area.
The School of Nursing has run the UNACARE Health Clinic in Midtown for almost 20 years. In addition to that, starting in July a fully equipped Mobile Medical Clinic van will be deployed.
“We realized we needed to take health care to people in the community,” said Janet Harris, DNP, RN, associate dean of practice and community engagement in the UMMC School of Nursing. “Through the UNACARE Mobile Clinic, we will be able to reach those people who aren’t being reached by anyone else. It will provide additional opportunities for some of our most vulnerable populations to not only seek care for illnesses, but also to promote overall wellness care.”
Convenience is very important as is providing care to those who do not currently have a provider, Harris said.
“The new UNACARE Mobile Clinic will start with the priority in the Midtown/Georgetown area,” she said. ‘We have been involved in these neighborhoods for almost 20 years running the UNACARE Health Clinic, as well as offering school-based clinics at Johnson, Brown/Rowan and Lanier. We are very engaged and involved in this community. And, yes, many individuals lack transportation or rely on others to get them to appointments. So, we plan on taking health care to them.”
Their goal is to first provide screenings to those who need them. Then they hope to provide primary care to those who do not already have a provider or are not being seen elsewhere. They will also make referrals to specialists as needed.
The UNACARE Mobile Clinic had its official ribbon cutting in May as part of the School of Nursing Honors Day at the Jackson Medical Mall. UMMC officials, alumni, students and donors were in attendance for the official ribbon-cutting.
The purchase and equipping of the clinic was made possible by donations from nursing alumni and community partners.
“Our alumni and community partners are some of the most generous I’ve ever seen,” said Kim Hoover, PhD, RN, dean of the School of Nursing. “Once they see the situation in underserved areas, they come to the table with solutions really quickly.”
Mississippi Regions made the largest contribution to the $144,000 van.
“When the Medical Center presented this idea, we thought it was a great opportunity to give back to the community, especially after we were presented with the facts that people lacked transportation,” said Candie Simmons, senior vice president and Mississippi regional marketing director for Regions.
Another donor was Bobbie Ward, UMMC alumna and former faculty member, who made a gift in honor of her parents, Elva and Wallace Gooch. Two other donors who helped make the vision of a mobile medical clinic a reality were School of Nursing alumna Patricia Dyre Kimble and former faculty and alumna Dr. Rene Marie Reeb.
Harris said the van was built specifically for UMMC to the exact details that the School of Nursing and a nurse practitioner requested, down to the colors and even the flooring.
“It’s amazing how big it is inside,” Harris said. “The one word I’ve heard from everyone who has been on the van has been, ‘wow.’ It is much roomier than you would expect. It has a check-in at the front and a full-sized treatment table. We have had excellent feedback from everyone that we have talked to about the clinic.”
The van will be staffed by two people, with plans to expand services as the need is identified. A nurse practitioner will see patients in the van’s exam room, while another professional will register patients in the front “reception” area. School of Nursing students will also have the opportunity to work at the mobile clinic.
The clinic will start by seeing patients in Midtown, and branch out from there.
“It will move around based upon need,” Harris said. “We have an advisory board that includes representatives from the Homeowners Association, Midtown Partners and a school principal. We believe in working collaboratively with the community to let them identify the greatest needs. We will start with their recommendations and suggestions, and then build from there. Our first goal is to serve the Midtown area. The second is to serve as needed throughout the community and spread from there.”
In addition to seeing patients in Midtown, the van will be used to provide early prescreening diagnostic tests to children enrolled in Head Start.
“Currently, to get these kids to us, Head Starts and other groups have to bus them to us,” Harris said. “Now we will be able to drive up to the centers and conduct the screenings on site.”
They will provide annual screenings for vision, hearing, height, weight and body mass index for children up to age 17 who are enrolled in the Medicaid program. In the past, some children were not getting screenings because of lack of transportation or a parent’s inability to take of work to take them to a clinic.
“In one setting where we completed screenings on all of the children, we found over 75 percent of them were abnormal,” Harris said. “Clearly, if kids cannot hear, see or do not feel well, they cannot learn. So, we connect them with resources to get glasses, hearing aids or our nurse practitioners make other referrals as needed.”
This is not the first mobile medical clinic in the state. Other groups have offered this in the past and some still do, but mostly in rural areas. The School of Nursing also has the Mercy Delta Express funded by the Sisters of Mercy of Vicksburg.
“It is a larger clinic, the size of an RV,” Harris said. “We have used it in the Mississippi Delta in the past for screenings. But, it is getting older and more expensive to maintain.”