Le Bonheur’s Mobile Health Initiative Brings Medical Home to Underserved Children and Families
Nurse practitioner Regina Perry examines a child on the mobile health unit.
The first two weeks of April, inside a mobile health unit assigned to the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences (MAHS), an inner city middle school partnered with Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center’s community outreach, nurse practitioner Regina Perry gave physicals to more than 150 students. Some of them hadn’t had a health check up in five years.
“We happened to find a diabetic (child) who hadn’t seen a doctor for two years,” Perry said, unsurprised.
In this 38108 zip code, most families survive without a medical home. But the community outreach program at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center is working to change that. In partnership with The Children’s Health Fund (CHF), a national network committed to providing healthcare to the nation’s most underserved children and families, Le Bonheur launched the Memphis Regional Health Project.
The mission is to bring comprehensive primary care services directly to children and families in areas of the Mid-South where they don’t have access to high quality healthcare. In these areas, people typically don’t utilize customary healthcare, are uninsured, and often end up in the emergency room for sick visits.
Le Bonheur’s mobile health division is using mobile health units to visit five different sites in Memphis and rural West Tennessee twice a month to deliver medical services to these at-risk children and families. The massive mobile units are 40 foot GMC trucks weighing 39,000 pounds and are specially designed to house the necessities of a basic primary care office with full lab and clinical equipment, a patient room and gynecological equipment. Each unit will have a pediatrician, nurse practitioner and registered nurse, and staff are trained to obtain a commercial drivers license to operate the vehicle.
Funding provided by CHF allows Le Bonheur the opportunity to utilize more community resources to provide mobile health units on a regular basis, rather than just at annual health fairs. CHF is also providing a medical director for the health project as well as technical assistance and access to best practices.
“The partnership with the Children’s Health Fund is an additive to Le Bonheur’s (outreach) program and will expand where we go,” said William Phillips, vice president of community outreach for Le Bonheur.
Phillips pointed out how many parents can’t afford the time off work to utilize regular care, which translates to children missing immunizations, annual screening and preventive care education.Plus, low-income families typically live in environments, such as housing projects, that create more health hazards for children like asthma.
“We are bringing a medical home to them,” Phillips said.
Le Bonheur staff are hoping to reach these kids not only to give them valuable medical care, but with the added purpose of providing health counseling and education to promote the need to make regular primary care a priority. Children will receive educational materials such as brochures and hand outs that are family centered, which give kids a chance to influence health within their own family. Simply being available to open up the avenues of communication can help build relationships and alleviate some of the fear and stigma associated with going to the doctor.
“There are large pockets of children going without the healthcare they deserve,” said Dr. Arturo Brito, chief medical officer and executive vice president of CHF. “We are helping the community understand what good healthcare is.”
To take it a step further, each unit is equipped with a plasma screen on the outside which allows staff to conduct educational sessions with groups of children and promote wellness while they wait to be examined.
“It empowers the child and family to take care of their own health,” Brito said.
Community wide, the goal of this medical home effort is to reduce emergency room visits, reduce obesity and diabetes, and ultimately eradicate the high infant mortality rate in the African American population. For that reason, staff will offer gynecological and prenatal care to teen girls, and with valuable counsel, will work to build the importance of good prenatal and feminine care.
Each child that visits the mobile health unit will receive an EKG, hearing and vision screenings and full blood work. If any patient requires resources beyond the mobile health unit, they will be referred to specialists who partner with Le Bonheur. Clinicians will also have use of common medicines like flu shots and asthma inhalers thanks to donations from drug companies. Le Bonheur clinicians expect to see about 250 patients per month at these designated CHF stops, which is about 15-30 per day in the mobile units.
MAHS student, Elijah Jones, 13, was enthusiastic about his physical, adding, “It helps the community by helping children who don’t have a doctor know what medical care they need.”
The school has been a health fair partner with Le Bonheur and now with the CHF stop, the staff is keeping health profiles of the kids and themselves as part of their own wellness program, which includes physical exercise. This project is also helping MAHS students become more involved with tracking their own health through progress reports taken at the beginning, middle and end of the year.
Principal Curtis Weathers is dedicated to alerting the community about the mobile health units, and was pleased with the positive response from parents who allowed their children to undergo physicals.
“It’s an asset to the community,” Weathers said. “Some kids have no healthcare. Our kids take advantage of free medical exams and get information and knowledge about health they can pass on to family members. It goes way beyond what we’re able to do.”