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Mobile Medical Units Deliver To San Diego’s Underserved

Video by Katie Schoolov

The Affordable Care Act is a complex piece of legislation. But at its core, the measure is all about expanding access to health care and getting more people insured. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg tells us about one local initiative that’s doing just that.

On a Monday afternoon in east San Diego County, health care is available in a parking lot. Standing on the steps of a large, blue recreational vehicle, nurse practitioner Summer Tekippe welcomed visitors.

On a Monday afternoon in east San Diego County, health care is available in a parking lot. Standing on the steps of a large, blue recreational vehicle, nurse practitioner Summer Tekippe welcomed visitors.

“So, this is Family Health Center’s medical mobile unit. C’mon in, and I’ll show you around," Tekippe said.

Inside, Tekippe pointed to a desk.

“Over here, we have where the providers sit," she said. "We can do charting and we do all of the ordering here on the electronic health record. And then our patients come over here, and they’re seen in this clinic.”

Inside the exam room are all the tools of the trade, including a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope and various other medical equipment. Tekippe said they offer a wide range of medical services in the mobile health unit.

“So we do pediatric physicals, we do adult physicals. We treat chronic illnesses like diabetes, blood pressure control, hyperlipidemia, minor illnesses, asthma, exacerbations, cuts, scrapes, things like that," she explained.

Family Health Centers has three mobile health units that deliver care to people’s doorsteps. Tekippe said the units fit right in with the goal of the Affordable Care Act: making care more accessible.

“So it really takes away some of the barriers about being able to come out your door, see someone on the street that’s a healthcare provider, and being able to walk into a clinic, and get the health care that you need,” she said.

The location for the mobile unit on this Monday is the KIVA program, operated by the McAlister Institute. It’s home to some 80 women who are trying to kick their addiction to alcohol and other drugs.

It's common for people in recovery to start taking care of health problems they’ve been neglecting for some time. That’s where this mobile medical clinic comes in handy.

Deborah, who doesn’t want to use her last name, has been a heroin addict for eight years. She’s been homeless for some of that time. This is her fourth attempt at recovery in the KIVA program.

When Deborah was here in January, she had a bad cough. So she visited the mobile unit.

“And I went in there, and I had pneumonia," she recalled. "And I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor if that wasn’t available to me. So I went in, and they diagnosed me with antibiotics, and I started to feel a lot better. But I just wouldn’t have taken care of myself by going actually to a doctor. So it’s really just amazingly convenient and provident.”

At this visit, Deborah is getting a tuberculosis test. It’s one the requirements to get into a vocational program at KIVA. The Affordable Care Act has extended health insurance to many previously uninsured Californians. But Family Health Centers government relations manager Ben Avey explained some of them don’t know how to access care outside of a hospital emergency department.

Photo credit: Katie Schoolov

Nurse practitioner Summer Tekippe talks with patient Sherry Manning inside Family Health Center's mobile medical unit. The mobile units go to communities that lack brick and mortar clinics.

“By having the mobile medical unit, you’re able to introduce them to a healthcare system. You bring them in, you introduce them to the doctor, and they build that relationship, so that they can continue their care long term,” Avey said.

Family health centers and other community clinics do more than just provide care. Avey said they’re also helping to spread the word about what’s available under the Affordable Care Act.

“Our community outreach teams do a lot of education," he added. "They come here to McAlister and other sites, educate people about what the Affordable Care Act is, you know, what is Obamacare. And based on that, they’re able to set them up with appointments to actually enroll in insurance, if they’re eligible.”

Family Health Centers has enrolled 5,000 San Diegans in the Medi-Cal program since last October.

Countywide, a total of 107,000 people have newly enrolled in the program. The ultimate goal is to connect these newly insured with a primary care doctor at a brick and mortar clinic. But for now, women in the KIVA program, like Sherry Manning, are happy to have the care come to them.

“I don’t have to go anywhere and wait on a bus or trolley, and wait in a lobby," she said. "It’s right here at my doorstep. So, I am blessed."

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